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Versatile Food : Rice

Advice and rants from the kitchen.

For some reason it seems that people don’t quite know how to cook rice. It’s compounded by the fact that there are a number of products that are focused on delivering “easy to cook rice” in a bag or for microwave etc – as if it were hard in the first place.

There is a brand which I will not name who charge a premium for crap quality rice, sub-par vegetables, and mystery meat. And then suggest in their adverts that it makes a perfect tête-a-tête dinner.

So my blog contribution today will be about how to get rice truly perfect every time, and some ideas of what to make with it. It really is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

1) One essential item

I will not hide that to get rice done perfectly, there is a special tool you need if cooking with a gas hob, that you should be able to find in any home ware/cookware store: it’s called a heat diffuser.

See here: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=heat+diffuser
Prices vary enormously. I bought mine for £2 and it works fine.

This item allows you too cook things over flame for extended periods of time, without burning the food to the base of the pot. It takes the heat from the central point on the gas ring, and spreads the heat evenly over the whole base.

If you use an electric hob, then it probably won’t matter so much, depending on how much control you have over the heat. It won’t hurt to have one anyway.

2) Two requirements for good rice

There are two conditions to meet to produce good rice:

a) For any given volume of rice, you need just under twice that volume of water. So for half a cup of rice, you need to add just under a cup of water. The rice will absorb it all.

b) You need to cook the rice covered, over low heat, using the heat diffuser. Check the cooking time on the packet. Rice is cooked when it is perfectly soft. If it’s al-dente, it needs a couple more minutes.

Anything else is superfluous. My mother insists it is heresy not to put salt in the rice water. Some people believe you must rinse the rice before cooking it. Others like to add butter to the finished produce. And all that jazz.

I generally use Jasmine, Thai or Basmati rice for my every-style cooking. I avoid American long-grain, it’s not my liking, nor is whole-wheat rice, but that’s just me. You really should use Arborio rice for risottos and paella, but the Rice Police won’t descend up on you for switching them. Just know that they have different textures and taste.

One thing however to note: there is a technique which consists in adding surplus water and, when the rice is cooked, getting rid of the excess. That’s like making a beef stew and throwing out the liquid part. Anything you cook by boiling has a vast amount of its nutrients and taste transferred into the water. So don’t use the excess water technique. Ever. (Unfortunately, the silly shapes and lengths of pasta force us to use the excess water technique. I’ll find a way around that one day…)

My method:
-boil enough water for the amount of rice you are going to cook – just under double the volume of water to the volume of rice
-put the rice in a pot with some cooking oil and turn on the heat
-stir the rice and the oil together whilst the pot heats up
-add the boiling water and some salt to the pot, stir so that the rice sits evenly
-cover fully, reduce the heat to lowest and place the heat diffuser under the pot
-check after the time indicated on the rice packet

3) Three ideas for variation

Rice is not just white bland stuff. Think of paellas (yellow for having lots of turmeric), risottos (rich with stock and wine), and stir-fry (augmented with sauces and spices).

a) Try cooking it with a different liquid. Say, chicken stock, or vegetable stock. Or coconut milk. Or part wine, part water. You choose. The rice will soak up whatever liquid it’s in. Just remember: one volume of rice, just under double volume of liquid.

b) Try putting whatever you are wanting to have with the rice in with it at the start. Vegetables are a good candidate, meat should be cut very small or thin as this is the only cooking they will get. Or even just add herbs and spices, mix at start and let cook thereafter.

c) Once cooked, fry it in a wok with stock liquid/cube, one or two seasonings (hoisin works marvels on pork; ginger and chilli with beef is fab, chicken with garlic and coriander is a classic… just try a combination – any combination…) with meat and/or 2 to 4 vegetables of your choice.
Note: add first the items that take longest to cook, for example meat and fibrous vegetables such as whole carrots, and the quicker to cook items last, for example peas, diced sweet peppers, or thinly cut carrots. The rice is already cooked, so add that last, just after any final seasonings.

You could even combine the above three, although I have never tried that myself…

4) Well eat it duh!

It’s as easy as that. Remember to transfer excess rice to a Tupperware and fill the cooking pot with water immediately. Rice starch is like glue once it has set.

Next time, on the Taikedz cooking channel: curries (and how to make it at home for nothing :-p).

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