Growing up, one of my favorite dishes was Chinese sticky rice, 糯米飯. Mama Lin’s version in particular has always been my favorite. She usually flavors her sticky rice with dried shrimp (蝦米), dried scallops (江瑤柱/干貝), Chinese sausage (臘腸), Chinese cured pork (臘肉, sometimes called Chinese bacon), and an array of vegetables and seasonings.
For a long time, Mama Lin made sticky rice in a rice cooker. A few years ago, she started steaming the sticky rice in a wok and has stuck to the steaming method ever since. She told me that sticky rice prepared in a rice cooker tends to be too mushy, particularly the rice sitting at the bottom of the rice cooker. When glutinous rice is steamed, the grains of rice remain separated but still retain a sticky quality. The recipe below outlines my mom’s cooking method for steamed sticky rice. If you are interested in learning how to cook instant pot sticky rice, check out my recipe here.
HOW TO COOK CHINESE STICKY RICE
SOAK GLUTINOUS RICE (SWEET RICE)
Most Chinese-style sticky rice recipes call for long-grain glutinous rice (sometimes called sweet rice). Although it looks similar to other types of long-grain white rice, glutinous rice is much more dense and requires a longer cooking time. That’s why you should soak the rice overnight before steaming it. Note that the glutinous rice used in this recipe is different from Japanese-style sweet rice, which is short-grain rice.
The night before you make the dish, soak the rice in a large bowl. I don’t usually bother to rinse the rice since the soaking will rid the rice of some excess starch.
PREPARE FLAVORING BITS
My mom likes to steam the rice with shallots, dried shrimp, dried scallops, Chinese sausage, Chinese cured pork, and mixed vegetables. I’m calling all of these ingredients “flavoring bits.”
Before you use the dried seafood in this recipe, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes to hydrate them. My mom likes to shred the scallops (see photo above) so that they can be distributed more evenly later on. Depending on the size of your scallops, you may need to soak them for 1 to 2 hours to get them to be soft enough to shred. Don’t worry if you can’t shred the scallops. They will soften completely once the rice is done steaming.
Before steaming the sticky rice, Mama Lin will lightly sauté the flavoring bits. This opens up the aroma of the flavoring bits. Note that you don’t need to fully cook the seafood and meat at this stage. They’ll finish cooking during the steaming process. However, you will want to cook the mixed vegetables because they’ll be added to the cooked sticky rice at the end.
OPTION TO ADD TARO
For variety, Mama Lin sometimes cooks Chinese sticky rice with taro cubes. To prepare the taro, she sautés the taro cubes with shallots, and seasons them with five-spice powder and chicken bouillon powder. My mom loves adding a little chicken bouillon powder to her dishes for umami flavor. If you don’t have chicken bouillon powder, you can leave it out. Again, you don’t need to fully cook the taro at this stage; it’ll finish cooking along with the rice.
You can usually find taro in Asian supermarkets. Make sure to buy large taro, ones that are at least 2 pounds (see photo above). You don’t want to buy the small furry taro (see photo below) for this recipe because they have a slimy texture. I also find the smaller taro to be more bland. You can always shred any leftover taro in a food processor and pan fry like hash browns with minced garlic and salt.
STEAM THE STICKY RICE
Mama Lin usually steams the sticky rice inside a large stainless-steel wok (see photo below). If you’re using a wok, you’ll want to place a steaming rack like this one so that the rice will be elevated when you’re steaming it.
If you don’t have a large wok, you can also steam the rice in a large, deep sauté pan. The one pictured below is a 6-quart Cuisinart sauté pan that is about 12 inches in diameter. Because the sauté pan is shorter than a wok, you also need a short steaming rack (see photo below). I bought the one below for less than $2 at an Asian supermarket, but the steaming rack is available on Amazon as well.
To hold the rice, Mama Lin often uses thin circular stainless steel pans that are at least 10” wide. She usually buys them from Asian supermarkets, but you can find a similar one on Amazon. A 10” cake pan works as well.
Lightly grease the pan and then spread the rice over the pan. Drizzle 1/3 cup of water over the rice. If you are cooking the rice with taro, spread the taro over the rice. Then, cover the rice (and taro) with the seafood and meat mixture.
Fill a wok with about 2 inches of water and bring it to boil. Place a steaming rack in the center, then the pan with the rice, cover it, and steam the rice on medium-high heat for 25 minutes. If you are using a sauté pan, the only difference is that you’ll want to fill the pan with about 1 to 1.5 inches of water and bring that to boil.
About 25 minutes into the cooking, flip over the rice so that it cooks evenly. You don’t need to flip it perfectly, as you can see in the photo below. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of water around the perimeter of the pan. Before steaming the rice again, pour 2 cups of water in the wok or sauté pan to replenish the water that has evaporated. Steam the rice for another 5 to 10 minutes. The rice is done cooking if the grains of rice are soft in the center.
Take the rice out of the pan, drizzle it with the soy sauce mixture, sprinkle the vegetables on top and mix everything together. The rice is now ready to serve!
WHAT TO EAT WITH STICKY RICE
Steamed Chinese Sticky Rice
- 1 1/2 cups sticky rice (about 350g), soaked for 6 to 8 hours
- water for cooking the rice
- 3 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked for at least 30 minutes
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dried scallops, soaked for at least 30 minutes
- 1 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/4 cup diced shallots
- 1 link Chinese sausage, finely chopped (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped Chinese cured pork, also called Chinese bacon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cooking rice wine (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
Taro (if using)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/4 cup diced shallots
- 2 cups peeled and diced taro, (see note 1)
- 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1/8 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder (optional), (see note 2)
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 1/2 cups mixed vegetables, can be peas, carrots, diced bell pepper, corn, etc.
- pinch of kosher salt or garlic salt
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon rice cooking wine (optional)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- sliced scallions
Lightly Sauté Flavoring Bits
- Drain the dried shrimp and scallops. Shred the scallops so that you can distribute them throughout the sticky rice. If the scallops are still too firm to shred, leave them whole and don’t worry about the shredding. They’ll soften completely after they steam with the sticky rice.
- Heat a wok or sauté pan with 1 1/2 tablespoons oil over high heat. Once the pan is hot, add 1/4 cup of shallots and stir fry them for about 1 minute. Then, add the dried shrimp, scallops, Chinese sausage, and Chinese cured pork. Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons cooking wine (if using), and 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper. Toss everything together.
- Turn off the heat and transfer the flavoring bits to a bowl.
Lightly Sauté Taro (if using)
- Drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in the wok or sauté pan over high heat. Add 1/4 cup chopped shallots and cook for 1 minute. Next, add the taro cubes and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the five-spice powder, chicken bouillon powder (if using), and a pinch of salt. Toss everything together.
- Turn off the heat and transfer the taro to a bowl.
- Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok or sauté pan over high heat. Add the vegetables and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re completely cooked. Season the vegetables with a pinch of salt or garlic salt.
- Turn off the heat and transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
Assemble Sticky Rice
- Lightly grease the cake pan with canola oil.
- Drain the soaked glutinous rice and spread it over the pan. Pour 1/3 cup water over the rice. Smooth out the rice with your hands. Cover the rice with a layer of the taro (if using). Then, add the flavoring bits.
Steam the Rice
- If you are using a wok to steam, fill it with about 2 inches of water. (Note: If you are using a large sauté pan, fill it with about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water.) Cover the wok with a lid and bring the water to boil.
- Place a steaming rack in the center of the wok. (Note: If you are using a wok, use a tall steaming rack; if you are using a sauté pan, use a shorter rack.)
- Carefully place the pan of sticky rice over the steaming rack. The steam is very hot, so be careful here. Cover the wok with a lid and adjust the heat to medium-high. Steam the rice for 25 minutes.
- Using oven mitts, remove the pan from the wok. Because a lot of water evaporates during the steaming process, pour another 2 cups of water into the wok.
- Using a large spatula, flip everything over so that the rice is on top (I used a wok spatula similar to this one). Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of water around the edge of the pan. Carefully place the rice back over the steaming rack, and cover the wok with the lid. Steam the rice for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the rice is cooked through and soft in the center.
Finish the Rice
- In a small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients together. Drizzle the sauce over the cooked rice and carefully toss everything together.
- Sprinkle the vegetables over the rice and mix together. If you are finding it difficult to mix everything in a small pan, transfer the rice and vegetables to a large bowl to mix.
- You want to use large taro for this recipe. The tiny, furry taro is slimy once cooked and the flavor is much more mild. I use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin off the taro. Then, I cut the taro into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch pieces. 2 cups of taro cubes is about 1 pound of taro.
- Mama Lin loves using chicken bouillon powder in her cooking because it provides umami flavor. Use it in this recipe if you have it at home, but it’s not necessary to go out and buy a can.
- Before cooking the recipe, make sure that you can fit a steaming rack and cake pan inside the wok or sauté pan with the lid on. The lid needs to sit tightly over the wok or sauté pan or else the rice won’t cook properly.
- If you are using a wok, use a tall steaming rack; if you are using a sauté pan, use a shorter rack.
Note: This post was originally published on November 6, 2018. I have updated the post by modifying the recipe so that you can make it with or without the taro. I’ve also added photos and a new video!