Once upon a time there were over 100,000 varieties of rice, bred for nuances in flavor, texture and growing conditions. Today, there are a mere few thousand types on the market, and the differences between them can still make the difference between a fluffy pilaf and sticky stuffing. Long-grain brown rice behaves somewhat like white rice, separating into individual grains. Short-grain brown rice is more dense and binds together well, especially if you mix it thoroughly. Choose the variety that is best for your recipe and, of course, your personal taste.
Work the Texture
The texture of long-grain brown rice is more delicate than that of short-grain brown rice, although any kind of brown rice will be more dense than white rice. The grains of long-grain varieties stand up as individual pieces, so they work well in pilafs in which the rice is combined with other ingredients. The stickiness of short grain varieties makes them useful in recipes where you're wrapping, rolling or stuffing. Use short-grain in sushi, burritos or stuffed vegetables. Its binding quality will make it considerably easier to create dishes that hold together well, saving you assembly time.
Perfect the Technique
Although the qualities of the rice itself affect how it will behave, you can also cook it in ways that help it behave well for your purposes. To make the grains of long-grain brown rice especially independent of one another, saute the grains for a few minutes in one tablespoon of oil per cup of dry rice before adding the water. Use low heat and turn off the heat or add water if any of the grains begin to brown or pop. To make short-grain brown rice especially sticky, mix it vigorously after it has been cooked to activate its starchiness. Whether you're cooking long-grain or short-grain brown rice, the sooner you use it after it is cooked, the less sticky it will be. Letting it sit in the pan after it is fully cooked makes it more dense and cohesive.
Use What You Have
Of course it's best to use the right rice for your dish, but you can make some adjustments even if you don't have the type specified in the recipe. To make a pilaf with short-grain brown rice, saute the grains with oil before you cook them and combine the rice with other ingredients as soon as possible after it's ready. To make a stuffing or filling with long-grain brown rice, let it sit for a few minutes extra after it's cooked, and mix it vigorously with the other ingredients. Cooking long-grain brown rice in a few tablespoons of extra water can also make it stickier. Alternately, cooking short-grain brown rice in several fewer tablespoons of water can make the grains separate more easily.
Enjoy the Health Benefits
Whether you use long or short grain brown rice, you'll benefit from a food much higher in nutrients than the white alternatives. Although brown rice has a few more calories than white rice, it is higher in fiber and protein, and is packed with minerals and micro nutrients including manganese, magnesium and selenium.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.