Skye adds mango to her rice pudding © Lisa Barber
With over 40,000 varieties, rice is the chief staple for half the world - and not a day goes by when Skye Gyngell doesn't delight in its endless versatility

A bowl of fragrant rice, topped simply with steamed fish or vegetables, with a scattering of spring onions, soya sauce, a little chilli, perhaps, and some sliced ginger makes a sustaining, nutritious and delicious dinner.

Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world's population, particularly in Asia and Africa, where it is typically eaten with every meal. This makes the current shortage of the grain – harvests of which have been hit by drought and are failing to keep up with population growth – extremely significant.

Exports of rice from these regions are being capped and prices have risen by around 50 per cent in the past month alone. So it's a good time to check out variants grown closer to home (see The Forager on page 49).

More than 40,000 varieties of rice are grown throughout the world and these can be divided broadly into three categories: long-, medium- and short-grain. Within these categories there are many sub-divisions, such as colour (brown, white, red or black) and texture (dry or sticky).

Long-grain rice can be either brown (with its husk intact) or white (husk removed). Its texture is light and fluffy, and the grains tend to remain separate when cooked. Used throughout Asia, basmati and jasmine rice fall into this group.

Short- and medium-grained rice is shorter, plumper and fatter, and tends to be stickier and more moist when cooked. It is also available as either brown or white. The Chinese prefer medium-grained rice, while the Italians and Spanish prefer the short-grained varieties that are used for paella and risottos.

The general rule of thumb when cooking rice is to allow 100g/31/2oz per person, and to remember that one cup of raw rice yields about three cups of cooked rice, brown rice yielding a little more. Allow one-and-a-half cups of water to one cup of rice, though again, brown rice may need a little more water, and short-grained a little less.

Although cooking rice can be a little daunting – and there is a great deal of badly cooked rice around – it is like everything else: it just takes practice.

Or, to make things simpler, if you eat a lot of rice, why not do what I have done and buy an electric rice cooker? Used prolifically in Asian restaurants, they produce perfect rice every time – and they're mistake-proof!

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Rice pudding

Rice pudding is something people seem to either love or hate – an ambivalence perhaps rooted in memories of all those stodgy, bland versions we had at school. I love rice pudding: made well, it is sweet, gentle and delicate. The key to success lies in long, slow cooking and patience.

Serves 4-6

2 organic free-range eggs
3tbsp of caster sugar
1 cup of milk
1 cup of double cream
4tbsp of short-grained rice
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
1 bay leaf
A good pinch of sea salt
One mango, sliced, to serve

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas3, and butter an 8-inch baking dish. Lightly beat the eggs with the sugar, milk and cream. Rinse the rice and place it in the baking dish. Pour the beaten mixture over the top and add the vanilla pod and bay leaf, tucking them in. Cover and bake in the oven for one-and-a-half hours until thick and creamy. Remove the lid and stir in the salt (this version has a good pinch of salt thrown in at the end like the Thai or Indonesian versions, which are both salty and sweet at the same time).

If you prefer a rice pudding with a brown crust, simply do not cover it while it is in the oven, and omit the salt, as the skin will get in the way. I served it here with mango – particularly good at this time of year.

Black rice with tomatoes, crème fraîche and horseradish

I've only recently discovered this beautiful nutty black rice grown in Piedmont in Italy. It has a lovely, chewy texture and the colour is absolutely beautiful. We use it mostly served tossed cold through salads, but it is equally good served warm, with lashings of extra-virgin olive oil.

Serves 4

5tbsp black rice, rinsed until the water runs clear
30ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of one lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 thumb of freshly grated horseradish root
100ml/31/2fl oz crème fraîche
2 ripe tomatoes (here I have used a mix of two Italian varieties, Datterino and Camone)
A small handful of young salad leaves, such as baby spinach
>A small bunch of basil

Place the rice in a small saucepan with enough water to cover it by no more than three-quarters of an inch. Add a pinch of salt and place over a medium heat; bring to a boil and immediately turn down to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes or until the rice is tender but still with a distinct bite to it. Drain and place in a bowl.

While the rice is still warm, squeeze over the lime juice and add the olive oil. Season with a little more salt and the pepper and stir well to combine. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Grate the horseradish and add to the crème fraîche. Season with a little salt and stir to combine. That's the dressing done.

Now slice the tomatoes into rounds or, if they're little, merely in half. Wash the salad leaves and pat dry, then place the tomatoes on top of them and sprinkle the basil leaves on top. Dress with a little more olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the dressed rice and toss gently with your hands.

To serve, arrange the salad on a plate or divide among four separate ones and spoon over the horseradish dressing. '

Sardines with sweet and sour dressing and jasmine rice

This calls for fresh sardines, grilled and served piping hot. The Thai dressing cuts beautifully through the oiliness of the sardines, while the rice is a delicate foil.

Serves 4

1 cup of jasmine rice
11/2 cups of water
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 red chillies, chopped, seeds left in
1 thumb galangal
1 stick of lemon grass, outer skin removed, insides chopped
5 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
1tbsp palm sugar
1tbsp tamarind
11/2tbsp fish sauce
8 sardines, filleted

First, cook the rice. Rinse it quickly under cool running water and place in a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and cover with the water. Bring to a bubbling boil. Turn the heat immediately to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid. If you have a simmer mat, sit the rice on that and cook on the lowest heat for 20 minutes. Uncover and allow the steam to escape, then fluff to separate the rice with a fork.

While the rice is cooking, make the dressing. Place the garlic, chillies, galangal (available from Thai supermarkets), lemon grass, curry leaves and coriander in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a rough paste; add the palm sugar (or use caster sugar if you can't find it) and continue to pound, than add the tamarind and fish sauce. The taste should be punchy but well-balanced, neither too hot, sour nor sweet. Set aside; this dressing is best eaten within a couple of hours of making.

Towards the end of the rice's cooking time, heat your grill to its highest setting. Lay the sardines skin-side up and cook without turning for two-and-a-half minutes or until the skin has begun to blister. Remove from grill. Divide the cooked rice among four bowls, lay the sardines on top and spoon over the dressing.

Little globe artichokes with Calasparra rice and Parmesan

It is the time of year for globe artichokes; the little ones are no bigger than an acorn and are so young that they need no trimming. If you can find only bigger ones, trim the tough outer leaves, cut in half and spoon out the choke, or buy a jar of artichoke hearts. Calasparra rice comes from Spain. Used in paella, it is short and plump, like arborio in risotto. This dish, though, is quicker and easier than risotto, as you don't need to feed slowly; all the liquid goes in at once.

Serves 6

50g/2oz unsalted butter
2 yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 small bunch of marjoram or thyme, leaves only, chopped
500g/17oz Calasparra rice
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
30 little globe artichokes
1.5l/21/2 pints chicken stock (or water if you prefer)
100g/31/2oz Parmesan, grated
40g/11/2oz unsalted butter
3tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

Place 50g of butter in a heavy-based frying pan and place over a gentle heat. When the butter has melted, put in the onion and marjoram and cook until the onion is soft and translucent – about 10 minutes.

Add the uncooked rice and turn up the heat slightly. Toss the rice so it becomes coated with the onions and butter. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Then add the artichokes and pour over the stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn down and simmer until the rice and artichokes are cooked and most of the stock is absorbed – it should be the consistency of a thick soup. Add the Parmesan and season with a little more salt and lots of pepper. Add the rest of the butter and chopped parsley, and stir. Serve in warm soup bowls with plenty of good crusty, peasant-style bread.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on rices that won't cut into Asia's alarming shortage...

Canadian Lake Wild Rice: From the parkland lakes of Saskatchewan in northern Canada, this slow-maturing rice is grown during the cool summer months. Available from health-food shops and Waitrose

Spanish rice: Bomba is the gold standard for paella; short-grain, it cooks quickly. Bahia, another paella rice from Valencia, is similar to Calasparra rice from Murcia. Available from

Le riz rouge: This whole-grain unpolished rice is firm in texture and nutty in flavour. It is widely available in supermarkets

Italian rice: A good selection is available from online specialists Savoria (, including riso venere nero integrale (black venus rice) and Principato di Lucedio – a black, aromatic and nutritionally rich wholegrain rice. Riso carnaroli, from the Piemontese producer Gli Aironi, is a superfine variety that is ideal for risotto and is considered the king of Italian rices