A menu consulting project had me making horchata for the first time. While most people in the United States think of horchata as a Mexican rice-based drink, the beverage is also prevalent in Spain and across Latin America, and can be made with a variety of ingredients such as barley, sesame seeds, almonds and chufa nuts. Cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, milk, condensed milk, coconut milk, herbs, and spices may also be added. Typically, some combination of these ingredients is steeped in water for a duration of time to make the drink.
While researching the recipe, I came across one commonality. Almost all recipes specifically called for either room temperature water or warm water. As a result, the rice was still raw, and after straining it out the horchata was thin and left a graininess on the tongue.
I wondered what would happen if I cooked the rice first. So I boiled the water and mixed in the ground rice. The rice immediately cooked and turned into something similar to Chinese congee. I let the mixture sit overnight, strained out the solids and blended the solids into a smooth slurry which I mixed back into liquid. Cooking the rice solved both of my issues. The release of starch into the liquid made it very creamy. And the rice was softened so it was no longer grainy. This may not be the traditional way of making it but this method created great drink.
Horchata – Makes ~15 cups
1 cup glutinous short grain rice
12 cups water
1 ea cinnamon stick
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1 cup milk
3/4 cup condensed milk
Ground Cinnamon for garnish (optional)
– Grind rice in blender until it is the consistency of course flour or cornmeal
– Bring water to a boil and take off the heat
– Stir rice into wate until fully incorporated
– Place mixture in a heat proof container and add the cinnamon stick
– Let soak at room temperature for at least 6 hours or overnight
– At this point, the rice will have settled to the bottom of the container. Carefully strain off as much liquid as possible without pouring out the rice
– Once most of the horchata liquid has been strained out, put remaining rice in blending and blend until smooth. If the rice is too thick to blend, add some of the liquid back in
– Start by mixing half of the rice blend back into horchata. If more thickness is desired, add more rice. As a reference, adding all of the rice make a horchata about the thickness of a smoothie (a bit too rich to be refreshing)
– Add salt, milk and a half cup of condensed milk. Taste and add more condensed milk as desired. The condensed milk will take some time to disperse evenly throughout so the horchata will be sweeter after its had time to
– Add a small pinch of cinnamon as a garnish for each glass poured
Results – I have done side by side taste tests with horchata sold by nearby restaurants and what I have concluded is that not one horchata was similar to the next. Some were thinner than the rest, some were sweeter than the rest, some had a lot more cinnamon. The recipe above makes a horchata that is a bit richer than most, not too sweet, and very smooth.
Afterthought – Recipes, like rules, are meant to be broken, but they must be established first. I find the most success when I follow a recipe step-by-step the first time through. This gives me the baseline to gauge other iterations on.