I love the coconut rice you get at posh modern Asian restaurants. I googled and tested various recipes but it was never quite right. Then I finally cracked it, by chance. The secret is using coconut powder (not coconut milk!) and kaffir lime leaves. Coconut powder makes the rice light and fluffy without the residual gunk on the surface you get from using coconut milk, and the kaffir lime leaves is the secret ingredient that gives this rice that special aroma.
For Aussie Sydney-siders reading this, you’ll understand when I refer to Longrain and Sailors Thai as my benchmark for “restaurant style” coconut rice. I never used to make coconut rice at home because it was never as good as the rice at posh modern Asian restaurants. So I thought the extra calories from the coconut milk wasn’t worth it.
I used to make coconut rice with just coconut milk and a pinch of salt and sugar. It was nice, and I would still scoff it down. But I knew there was something missing. I googled a lot and researched recipes on both blogs and online magazines. It was through this research that I got the tip to add kaffir lime leaves to get that earthy lime fragrance. Kaffir lime leaves are the leaves of kaffir lime trees. They are different to ordinary limes. Kaffir limes are green, like ordinary limes, but they are bumpy. I’ve never cooked with kaffir limes but kaffir lime leaves are a fairly common ingredient in South East Asian cooking.
“The fragrance of kaffir lime leaves can’t be replicated. They are worth getting because they are cheap and last for ages in the freezer.”
If you have never used kaffir lime leaves before, I truly encourage you to give it a try. It is worth hunting down because they are quite cheap (about $2 for 20 to 30 leaves) and they last for ages in the freezer. The fragrance it adds to dishes is astonishing and cannot be substituted with anything. It is a lime fragrance, but earthier. In Australia you can get Kaffir Lime leaves at large supermarkets and green grocers (like Harris Farms), as well as in Asian grocery stores. As a last resort, you could substitute with dried kaffir lime leaves (which you can get from the spice section in supermarkets).
“Coconut powder is great to have on hand. It’s cheaper than coconut milk and you can just mix up as much as you need. And you can get it at the supermarket.”
The other secret to a restaurant-style coconut rice is to use coconut powder instead of canned coconut milk. Whenever I made coconut rice using canned coconut milk, I noticed that there was white residue left on the top of the rice. After resting the rice and fluffing it up, the residue mixed through but you could still see it coating the rice grains and made it a bit sticky. If you use coconut powder, the rice cooking liquid is thinner so you get all the flavour but much less residue which makes the rice nice and fluffy. I discovered this purely by chance when I made this rice using coconut powder because I didn’t have coconut milk. 🙂
Coconut powder is cheaper than canned coconut milk, plus you can use it to mix up as much coconut milk as you need rather than opening a whole can so it’s quite convenient to have in stock. It is available in the Asian section of supermarkets or next to the coconut milk in the canned vegetables section, or at Asian grocery stores.
I made this rice to accompany Beef Rendang but it goes really well with pretty much any Asian dish as well as Caribbean / tropical meals.
Love to hear what you think! Just leave a comment below if you have any questions at all and I’ll be sure to respond!
Happy cooking! – Nagi
- 1 cup jasmine rice (or long grain) (see notes)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 packet coconut milk powder (1.75 oz / 50 g) (see notes)
- 2 large or 3 small kaffir lime leaves , crumpled in your hand
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp desiccated coconut , toasted, to garnish (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Place lid on.
When it comes to the boil (watch it, you don't want it to boil over), turn down the heat to low / medium low so it is simmering gently.
Leave it to simmer for 12 to 15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Remove from heat and rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Fluff with fork. Garnish with toasted coconut, if using, then serve.
1. This rice is best made with jasmine or long grain rice. Medium and short grain rice are too sticky which is made even stickier by cooking it in coconut. Basmati is also a good substitute. This recipe is not suitable for risotto or paella rice. It will also work with brown rice.
2. Coconut milk powder is available in the Asian section or next to canned coconut milk in the canned vegetables of supermarkets. They typically come in packs of 3 sachets which are 50g / 1.75 oz each. In Australia, a box of 3 sachets costs $3.