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The Great Rice Bowl

Uncooked rice grains on a light surface with a dark background
Simone Bosotti via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A lot of the meals that we cook at home end up needing some sort of starch. Potatoes are the default choice, but there are also whole grains like bulgur, barley and even quinoa. But an important alternative is rice. Chef Jerry Pellegrino reminds us that when we speak of rice, we are actually speaking about a lot of different things.

Rice is the seed of a grass species called oryza glaberrima, which originated in Africa. Today the many varieties of rice are grown around the world, although they do best in warm watery locations. Rice is the number 1 food for human consumption in the world, accounting for about 20% of the calories we eat.


There are hundreds of varieties of rice, each with its own uses. To simplify, we speak of long grain, medium grain and short grain varieties. Long grain rice, like basmati and jasmine, are often very fragrant and retain their shape after cooking. The preferred manner of cooking is to steam them. Medium grain rice like arborio and bomba tend to cook up sticky, making them perfect for risotto and paella. Short grained rice often ends up in rice pudding or sushi.


All rice can be either brown, with the hull intact, or white, with the hull scrubbed off. Brown rice has greater nutritional value, and digests with lower blood sugar consequences. Brown rice does require longer cooking times.


So-called "wild rice" may closely resemble true rice, but it is a different species altogether. Yet its culinary preparation is very similar to traditional rice, although cooking times are notably longer.


Here are several recipes that Jerry has put together for enjoyable rice dishes.

Long Grain

Rice Pilaf


2 cups white rice (preferably long grain)

2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil (or chicken fat)

1/2 cup chopped onion - green onion (scallions) or yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

Up to 4 cups of stock (amount depends on the type of rice you are using), either chicken stock or vegetable stock for vegetarian option, or a mix of water and stock

2 teaspoons of salt or seasoned salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat stock in saucepan: Look at the cooking instructions for your rice. If your rice calls for 2 cups of water for every cup of rice then you will need a total of 4 cups of liquid. If your rice calls for 1 2/3 cups of water for every cup of rice, you will need a total of 3 1/3 cups of liquid.

You want to cook the rice in a liquid that is primarily stock—chicken stock or vegetable stock. Up to half of the liquid can be plain water, but at least half of the needed liquid should be stock. Homemade stock is the best, of course, and will make a big difference in the quality of the resulting pilaf.

Heat the measured amount of stock needed in a saucepan, at least 2-qt sized.

Brown the rice, add onions and celery: While the stock is heating, heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the olive oil (or chicken fat if you have it) to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the uncooked rice and brown the rice, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes.

When the rice has browned, add the onions and celery and cook a few minutes longer, until the onions begin to soften.

Add salt, pepper, cayenne: If you are using canned or boxed broth, be careful of how much seasoning you add. We usually use homemade, unsalted chicken stock, so we add 2 teaspoons of salt or seasoned salt along with ground pepper and a dash of cayenne.

If you are starting with seasoned broth, you may only need to add a teaspoon of salt. Taste test the broth/stock. It can be a little on the salty side because the rice will absorb a lot of the salt.

Add stock, cook the rice: Pour the heated stock into the pan with the rice (or pour the rice mixture into the stock, depending on which pan has a lid).

Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for as long as the instructions say on your package of rice. Usually between 15 to 25 minutes. Use a timer.

After the set amount of cooking time, remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered. At no point during the cooking of the rice should you uncover the pan.

Fluff with fork, stir in parsley: Fluff with a fork to serve. Stir in chopped parsley. You can also mix in heated peas, toasted almonds, or raisins to the pilaf to make it more interesting.

Medium Grain

Pressure Cooker Mushroom Risotto



4 cups chicken stock 

1 teaspoon dried porcini powder 

1 ½ pounds mixed mushrooms, such as shiitake, and cremini trimmed, thinly sliced 

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 cups risotto rice, such as Arborio or Vialone Nano 

3/4 cup dry white wine 

¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat olive oil in the base of a pressure cooker over medium high heat until just smoking. Add onion and garlic stirring frequently, until onions are translucent. Add fresh mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until excess moisture is evaporated, and mushrooms are well browned, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until rice is evenly coated in oil and toasted but not browned, 3-4 minutes. Add wine and porcini powder and cook, stirring until most of the wine has evaporated. Pour stock into the pot. Scrape any grains of rice or pieces of onion from side of pressure cooker so that they are fully submerged. Close pressure cooker and allow to pressurize. Once fully pressurized, cook for 7 minutes. Release the pressure from the cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Remove the lid, stir in the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper.


Paella de Barcelona



4 braised pork fore shanks

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced

1 Spanish onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, crushed

Bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, reserve some for garnish

1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed

4 cups short grain Spanish rice

8 cups chicken stock, warm

Generous pinch saffron threads, steeped in the warm chicken stock

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 cup fresh peas or sweet peas, frozen and thawed

Heat oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the chorizo until they just start to give up some of their red oils, about 5 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, and parsley. Cook them until they become soft and just browning in the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes. Then, add tomatoes and cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Fold in the rice and stir fry to coat the grains. Pour in the stock and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. Add the pork shanks in a symmetrical pattern around the pan. Cook for 5 minutes and turn over, pushing the down into the rice. Add the shrimp in a symmetrical pattern around the pan and gently push them into the cooking rice. Give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, for about 15 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking sprinkle the peas over the rice. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up for 40 seconds until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom, then it's perfect. The ideal paella has a toasted rice bottom called socarrat. Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.


Short Grain

Sushi Rice


2 cups sushi or short grain rice

3 cups water, plus extra for rinsing rice

¼ tablespoons rice vinegar

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

Place the rice into a mixing bowl and cover with cool water. Swirl the rice in the water, pour off and repeat 2 to 3 times or until the water is clear.

Place the rice and 3 cups of water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds. Stir to make sure all of the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature before using to make sushi.

Types of Sushi

Nigirizushi or Nigiri- meaning "hand-pressed sushi". Typically made of a hand formed rectangle of sushi rice with a swipe of wasabi on top, finished with some type of topping or neta (normally salmon, tuna, or other seafood). 

Makizushi or Maki- meaning "rolled sushi". Generally wrapped in nori (seaweed), but can occasionally be wrapped in a thin omelet, soy paper, cucumber, or shiso (perilla) leaves. 


Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.