It's not a one-size-fits-all.
Rice is as simple as it gets, right? Well...not exactly. First of all, nailing the technique for the perfect pot of rice is a lot easier said than done. Second of all, rice comes in many different sizes, and it can be somewhat confusing to fully understand when to use which kind and what the underlying differences are between each of them. While some recipes specify which size to use (short, medium, or long), some recipes don’t, so it’s crucial to understand which is which, and what size of rice is best for a particular application.
The average size of long-grain rice is about four to five times longer than it is wide. For the novice rice maker, this category is going to be your best friend. The most forgiving of all three sizes, long-grain rice is great for side dishes, salads, and pilafs. What makes it ideal for these applications is the fact that it doesn’t clump up or fluff excessively when it cooks, like some of the smaller grains tend to do. Instead, each grain of rice is prone to remain distinct and maintains a firm and dry texture. Common types of long-grain rice include basmati and jasmine.
The general size range of medium-grain rice is about two to three times longer than the grain is wide. With a slightly rounder and squatter shape than that of long-grain, you can expect for it to cook up fluffier and stickier. In some cases, medium- and short-grain rice can be used interchangeably because they both yield a fluffy product; however, if you’re going to be making a true risotto or paella, your best bet is to seek out a medium-grain variety, such as Valencia or Arborio.
Lastly, short-grain rice is the...shortest of them all. Shocking, I know. Sometimes confused with medium-grain, short-grain rice is about the same size in length as it in width. It very much lends itself to sticking together, making it the perfect option for sushi rice, puddings, or anything that involves any level of molding the rice. The final product is incredibly soft and tender, so if you’re making sticky rice, there’s no other option.