The normal approach to coconut rice often leads to a mushy sibling to rice pudding. But Andrea Nguyen's turmeric coconut rice is a distant relative to the coconut rice you may know. This rice is fluffy, with defined grains of rice—no more mush! Despite the delicate layers of flavor, the recipe is simple in its ingredient list and approach. As Andrea Nguyen writes: "For decades I’ve been chasing this turmeric-stained rice perfumed with coconut, trying to figure out an unfussy way to make it well. Fancy versions of cơm nị call for frying the rice first and cooking it with coconut milk, clove, star anise, and cinnamon, but those additions tend to muddle the flavors. Plus, coconut milk can weigh down rice and turn it gummy.
Turns out that the key is using coconut water, a tropical ingredient that, in recent years, has become incredibly popular in America. During cooking, the coconut water hydrates the rice without overwhelming the grains, and it imparts a delicate, sweet tropical lilt. If available, grate fresh turmeric for extra vibrancy. Coconut oil delivers the rich closing punch. This rice is often served with curries, but I’ve found it’s also terrific with grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables. I pack leftovers for a cheery lunch."
Wash the rice in several changes of water and drain well. An easy way to do this is to run water over the grains of rice in the medium saucepan you plan to use, swishing them in a circle with your hand, then pour off most of the water into the sink, holding the rice back with your hand. When the water is clearer after a few rinses (it will never be totally clear), drain the rice through a fine-mesh strainer and dump it back into the saucepan.
In your medium saucepan over high heat, combine the rice, coconut water, turmeric, and salt and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to loosen the grains. Lower the heat slightly and let bubble for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. When the rice is glossy on top, turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for 10 minutes. Uncover, add the coconut oil, and fluff with chopsticks or a fork to combine and to circulate the grains. Re-cover and let rest for 10 minutes, or up to 30 minutes to finish cooking. Before serving, fluff the rice again.
Transfer the rice to a serving bowl or platter and let diners help themselves.