02 September, 2014

My Rice Milk Adventure

James Cagney laughing it up with
Virginia Bruce and a glass
of milk in Winner Take All, 1932
Dairy products have always been my friend. Cheese...milk...butter...half-and-half in my coffee...whipped cream. I've had to give most of that stuff up since my bypass (I still eat cheese - I'm only human) but the only thing I really miss is milk. Whole milk. Before my surgery, milk was my beverage of choice with meals. Part of that, of course, is due to childhood habits, but there's some social conditioning going on there too. Milk is deeply ingrained in American culture; just pay attention when you're watching old movies. When you start noticing little details in films you'd be surprised how many scenes there are where people drink milk. When the hospital dietitian came around to discuss the "cardiac diet" I was henceforth expected to follow, I was told that rich dairy products were right out...but I could drink all the SKIM milk I wanted. Skim milk is good for me. Whole milk is poison.

To hell with that. I really can't stand the taste or mouthfeel of skim milk. It's nasty shit. I'd rather never drink milk again than drink skim milk. So I started looking for a substitute. I found that most brands of soy milk are pretty good. My favorite "grain milk," though is rice milk. Commercial rice milk is pretty amazing - Not only does it have a consistency very close to dairy, it also tastes like the milk that's left behind in the bowl after eating Rice Krispies (which is basically the best flavor that milk can be except for chocolate and malt.) Naturally, we've been going through a lot of Rice Dream, at like three bucks a container. It gets expensive fast, so I decided to try making my own because I am a cheap bastard thrifty. The ingredients in Rice Dream are pretty simple, too: filtered water, partially milled brown rice, veggie oil to provide a bit of body, and some added vitamins. How hard can this be, right?

It turns out that it's not that hard to find rice milk recipes on the web. In fact, there are so many that it can be kind of overwhelming. The first time I asked Chef Google for her recommendations, the top results called for using brown rice and a long initial cooking time. So that's what I did:

Rice Milk (Cooked Rice #1)

1 cup brown rice
8 cups water
1/4 cup canola oil
dash of salt
additional water
sugar to taste

Combine the rice, water, oil, and salt in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Turn down to a very low simmer, cover, and allow to cook for 3 hours or longer (a slow cooker or cockpot is excellent for this.) When the rice has cooked enough, it will look kind of like a soupy rice sludge.

Measure the sludge into a blender. For every cup of rice you put in, add 2 cups of fresh water (put in rice and water alternately so you don't overfill the blender.) Whirl the mixture on high for at least five minutes. (If you have a Vitamix or Ninja this will probably be enough; if you have a standard blender, you'll need to leave the blender on for somewhat longer.)

She likes green beans, though.
The rice milk will now be somewhat thinner than when it came from the pot, and it needs to be filtered. Use a very fine-mesh strainer - or a strainer lined with a piece or two of cheesecloth - to pour the rice milk through and into a big bowl. Scrape along the inside of the strainer every now and then to help the stuff flow through.

When done, you will have some thick rice milk (more like "rice heavy cream" in viscosity) in the bowl, and a strainer full of disgusting mushy rice bran. You can throw the bran out, or eat it if you want some fiber in your diet. If you have chickens, give it them. (I gave mine to my parrot. She didn't like it.)

When you cook rice this long, it gets thick and gummy. Even after thinning it in the blender and removing a lot of solids with the filter, the rice milk - although a very lovely white color - was still too thick to comfortably drink. Starting with a measured 36 ounces of the thick stuff, I gradually added water, sampling as I went, until I arrived at a quaffable consistency. I wound up getting about 56 ounces of rice milk for every 36 ounces of thick liquid I measured into the blender. If you try this method, you'll need to experiment to find the right consistency for you. The heavily-cooked rice had developed a somewhat bitter aftertaste and I added a little sugar to round off the flavor. It wasn't all that bad, but it wasn't exactly good, either. No matter what I did, I couldn't get rid of the gumminess. I made something like four batches of this cooked-brown-rice rice milk because even though I wasn't that happy with the end result, I wanted to tinker with it AND I wanted to use up all of the brown rice. My final batch of cooked white rice milk was made with white rice. It was sill gummy, but there wasn't nearly the quantity of dregs in the strainer. I learned two lessons from this:

  1. Cooking the rice into a paste is NOT a good way to start rice milk.
  2. Screw brown rice. If all I'm doing is skimming off the bran anyway, why the hell am I spending more money on brown rice vs. white? 

Despite being kind of unhappy with the results, I couldn't call these first attempts at homemade rice milk a failure. The milk turned out exactly as the online recipes said it would, I just didn't care for the results.

Next, I tried using cooked rice left over from a meal. The rice was cooked, but not cooked until it's soul departed for the Elysian Rice Paddies.

Rice Milk (Cooked Rice #2)

1 cup leftover cooked rice
4 cups water
Dash of salt
Sugar to taste

Combine rice, water, and salt in a blender and whirl until smooth. Add sugar to taste and blend a little bit longer. Pour through a fine strainer or a few layers of cheesecloth to remove any chunky bits. Serve chilled, shake well before serving.

If you use white rice, like I did, you'll find that there are a lot less solids that need to be filtered out, because there isn't any indigestible bran to remove from the milk.

This turned out a little bit better, but still had that cooked-rice gumminess that I really didn't care for. Why was the Rice Dreams commercial rice milk so smooth and clean-tasting, while mine was gummy? I looked up more recipes and found that some people were making their rice milk from raw rice. Could this be the answer?

Rice Milk (Raw Rice)

1 cup raw rice
8 cups water
Pinch of salt
Sugar to taste

Some recipes recommended toasting the rice as a first step, to help develop a better flavor. Put the dry rice into a skillet over medium heat and stir it frequently as the rice toasts and browns slightly. Remove from heat when fragrant and lightly browned.

I made batches with both toasted and untoasted rice. I couldn't tell the difference between the two.

Combine the rice and the water and allow to soak for 8 to 10 hours. I just put the stuff together in the blender before I left for work. When I got home that evening, the rice was soaked and already in the blender.

Whirl the soaked rice/water mix at high speed for 10 minutes to destroy the rice and incorporate as much of it as possible into the rice milk. Add salt and sugar to taste, sipping and adjusting as needed.

Pour through a cheesecloth-lined fine strainer, serve chilled. Rice milk will separate in the fridge; shake well before serving.

The flavor of this version is pretty much what I was looking for...and yet, it still wasn't right. My Ninja blender, as efficient and deadly as it is, couldn't grind the rice fine enough for efficient processing. Worse yet, the milk had some fine particles still floating about - too fine for the cheesecloth to catch, but coarse enough to make it feel like I was drinking a glass of sand. I solved this problem by pouring the rice milk through a nut milk bag - an extremely fine-meshed nylon back that is used to filter...well, homemade nut milk.

Finally! I had a decent homemade rice milk. Now I wanted something faster.

That's when I decided to use rice flour instead of whole rice grains. I don't have a grain mill, and obviously my blender is not the right tool for grinding rice. After some trial and error, I have a recipe now that works beautifully, and is proportioned to the 46-ounce juice bottles that I use to store the milk:

Dave's Rice Milk

46 ounces water
1 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp salt or salt substitue
1/4 cup canola oil
3 to 4 tbsp demerara sugar or regular sugar

Combine all ingredients in a blender and whirl on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes. Pour through a nut milk bag, carefully squeezing out all the liquid you can from the bag.

Shake well before serving; serve chilled.

This turns out the most awesome homemade rice milk of all, much cheaper than buying the commercial stuff. Someday, I'm going to find a grain mill at an estate sale or thrift shop and I'll mill my own rice flour from whole rice and the milk will be even cheaper, but for now buying rice flour in bulk (or from the Bob's Red Mill section at Ocean State Job Lot) will have to do.


TomW said...

"...My Ninja blender, as efficient and DEADLY as it is,... "

"...and the chips were tasting more like Cheetos rubbed around an ashtray than Bacon Mac & Cheese..."


It is SO GOOD to see you posting again; I can only aspire to your prose.


Unknown said...

Just wanted to say thank you for posting all of the detail on your research of rice milk recipes, I've been looking for a new milk option after realizing that soy milk isn't very easy on my stomach. Your method looks easy enough to repeat often for a reasonable cost. Excited to try it out!