Everyone knows that it is not a Filipino meal without rice. It is the background to every meal and almost every other food served on a Filipino table will go with rice. There are hundreds of varieties of rice but to the Filipinos white rice prepared boiled or steamed is king. In the Philippines, most of the rice used is of the long grain variety but the short grain varietals from Japan or California are also becoming popular. Meals in the Philippines are not served in courses. Everything is brought to the table all at once except maybe for the dessert (himagas). Usually, there will be at least 2 or three dishes served in a typical meal. along with the ubiquitous white rice. There may be soup, a fried dish and a dish with sauce and some kind of condiment or sawsawan. In our house, there are the usual pairings of food such as Mongo Guisado (Sauteed mung beans) with tuyo (dried fish usually herring).
An improperly cooked rice can ruin a meal so it is important to get it just right. A good boiled rice should be soft but not mushy, have distinct grains, free of foreign particles, snowy white and minimal or no crusting at the bottom of the pan.
There was a time when the rice is winnowed before it is cooked to remove impurities such as small stones and the unopened husk (palay). This was a time consuming process where the uncooked rice (bigas) that will be used for the meal is placed on a bilao, a woven circular tray usually made from thin shaved bamboo slats. The rice is shaken up and down to release any dirt, loose husk and starchy powder from the milling. After a few shakes, the rice is gone through to remove any additional dirt such as small stones and palay (unopened husk). Then the rice is placed in a pot, usually clay, and washed about 2 or three times until the water runs clear. This removes any additional starch and will produce fluffy rice.
Reserve the water after the first washing (hugas bigas) for the sinigang or nilaga broth
2 cups rice
4 cups water
In a medium sauce pan, add 2 cups rice. Rinse rice in water 2 to 3 times to remove excess starch. When discarding the wash water be careful not to lose any rice with the wash. Add 4 cups of water. Since different kinds of rice absorb water differently, you may have to adjust your water accordingly. Remember to also adjust for any water that is left over from washing the rice.
Cover the pot with the lid. The rice is cooked at high heat until it boils. Let it boil for a few minutes with the lid very slightly off the pot to let the steam escape. Put the heat on low, cover the pot completely with the lid and bring the rice to a simmer until all the water is absorbed and there are no hard areas in the rice grain. Let the cooked rice (kanin) sit for 5 to 10 minutes more before serving so all the liquid is completely absorbed.
I measure my water with my middle finger, no matter how much rice I am cooking. Here's how I do it: After washing the rice and discarding the wash water, I add water to the rice, level the rice off on the rice cooker pot and place the tip of my middle finger on top of the rice level. The water level should be at the first line of my middle finger from the tip. The rice always comes out just right.
Some folks line the pot with a few pandan leaves to add a nutty botanical fragrance and flavor to the rice. If you like your rice fragrant, pandan leaves are available frozen at Asian stores or opt for Thai Jasmine rice which is now widely available in the Asian section of grocery stores.. Our family has never added salt to the rice and I know some do. I personally prefer my boiled rice plain . I think that the rice should be the blank canvas where the artistry of the food can show through.