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Washoku VS Yóshoku

This is a bit of a preview of the blog posts to come, as I am traveling in Japan and trying to experience, amongst other things, Japanese cuisine as much as I can.

I’m posting this prematurely because I feel like I’ve had such a eureka moment, I am just that elated, and want to share the knowledge.

Photos to follow another time.

What follows is what I have gathered as the most essential concept to help understand “Japanese” cuisine. Whilst you may be familiar with the idea that there is “no single Chinese cuisine” or “no single Italian cuisine,” the Japanese take this even further, transcending regionality altogether.

It was only later in my trip that I did some reading up on something called “yóshoku.”

In a nutshell, Japan followed Buddhist principles for close to 2,000 years, and during that time, eating land mammals was forbidden, even taboo, and emphasis on minimal handling of ingredients and seasonality was de rigueur. Cooking with oil was very rare. Stewing, broiling and grilling were the only notable ways of cooking. For most of the country, fish was eaten only occasionally, largely due to poverty, with soy and rice being the staple diet, along with various root vegetables. Pickling became an important technique for preserving food, but also for flavouring; spices apparently were not common fare. With Japanese isolationism in place, very little influence came in until the 19th century. At that time, Emperor Meiji decided that interaction with the outside world, most notably Europe and America, would greatly benefit the advancement of Japan and the taboo on eating meat was lifted. Japan then entered the “modernization era.”

Two things happened at this point culinarily: oil cooking, and European fusion cooking. What we know today as “tempura” is a style of cooking the Japanese adapted from Portuguese cuisine. Where oil frying used to be a very rare thing, this now was a possibility, and production and common use of cooking oils expanded. The second thing is that many European dishes were adopted and adapted to Japanese tastes. Both of these are a form of yóshoku, which translates as “Western Cuisine.” An important thing to stress is that yóshoku is not in fact Western cuisine, but specifically a Japanese practice using Western food as its base.

One thing I still have not quite pieced together is that yóshoku is always heavily sweetened. Teriyaki sauce, regarded as so quintessentially representative of Japanese cuisine is yóshoku, at least as far as I can tell. “Katsu,” the Japanese breaded meat slice, is derived from the loan-word “katsuretsu,” the word “cutlet” in katakana spelling. I’ve been told by one person that it probably stems from the early development of the cuisine when sugar started entering the market at the same time as yóshoku, as a luxury commodity. Using it in Western-based dishes was probably an expression of sophistication by the elite classes who were able to afford fancy Western dishes. I suspect that this is the same symptom as to what happened in Britain, when we started sweetening tea… which was unheard of in China!

This explains the sweetened pasta meat sauces, the sweetness of the dressing on various takoyaki and yakitori, and the yakisoba. The omuraisu is most definitely of this category. Ketchup is well loved, the recipes for mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce (“Worcester sauce” in Japan) and others all call for significant amounts of sugar (a tablespoon’s worth is common for every three eggs in mayonnaise for example).

This also explains why the sweetness is not experienced in the dishes that make use of roots and vegetables, soy and other items – such as soba, oden, nabe and the likes. These are washoku, traditional Japanese, and are not expected to be sweetened.

And so, you can expect any heavily meat based dish to step from yóshoku. I am due to be in a cooking class that will involve “nikujaga,” translating as “meat and potatoes,” which is an interpretation by the Japanese navy of a British-style beef stew. And sure enough, the recipe calls for sugar

This, is enlightenment.

True gravy, proper deglazing, and “cheat” sauces…

I have no doubt that a good gravy, or sauce, can transform a dish entirely. However, it’s not all stock cubes and instant gravy powder. In fact, obtaining a perfect gravy is just as easy without those artifices – you just need to have prepared a tiny bit before hand.

This post will be divided into thee sections:

  1. Gravy from roast meat
  2. Deglazing after frying
  3. Cheat sauces – when you’ve not roasted or fried anything

Gravy from roast meat

Obtaining a gravy from a roast is as easy as adding water to a pan. Nearly.

Before roasting, chop some tough vegetables, such as onions and carrots, and place these in the roasting tin. If you have a rack on which you’ll put your roast, spread the vegetables out evenly in the pan; if not bunch them in the centre and rest the meat on top of the vegetables.

After the first 10 minutes of roasting, add boiling water to the roasting tin – about 1/4in or 1cm deep.

Every 20min or so, check on the liquid level, and keep it topped up with boiling water.

Once the meat is done roasting, remove the meat to a carving board/plate etc. Pour the liquid and vegetables into a small saucepan – you’ll notice that there is fat from the roasting of the meat. This is a good thing. Therein is contained all the flavour from your meat, be it lamb, pork, chicken, beef or otherwise. Reduce this on low heat for about 5min, add salt and herbs to taste. I tend to add one or two tablespoons of crème fraîche to this to give it extra texture and taste, but that’ll be up to you…

You now have a gravy. See? No instant stuff.

Deglazing after frying

This technique is a little more involved, but just as easy. Once you’ve fried your meat (steak, chicken, lamb, etc…) and it’s out of the pan, you’ll notice that there are charred remains and globules of oil and/or fat. These are what will make up the core flavour of our sauce.

Deglazing is about unsticking and bringing together the fat and charred pieces – and we do that by adding a liquid. Strictly speaking, boiled water – 50mL worth (about one or two shots, depending on what your measure are like) – should suffice. You can also use such things as red wine, sherry, or even rum to do this. Go wild. Use about 25mL for the spirits. Or whatever.

Bring the pan back onto a low heat and add the liquid, stirring and gently scraping the pan with a wooden spoon (avoid scratching non-stick pans – removing the teflon coating is particularly bad for your health if it gets into your food, and ruins your pan). When the liquid is coming to a simmer, add a knob of butter, and gently swirl this into the pan. Salt and pepper to taste, and reduce further until the liquid is not quite so runny.

Tadaa!

Tip: make yourself some pre-made sauces! I deglaze after frying anything (within reason – maybe not eggs). Specifically, I deglaze after frying bacon in the morning, but using crème fraîche instead of butter. Instead of using the sauce immediately, I keep it for later to pour on a pasta snack later in the day. Tastes like carbonara 🙂

Cheat sauces – when you’ve not roasted or fried anything

One thing I used to do in pubs was to order chips (“fries”) along with some pepper sauce that normally comes with a steak. I detest ketchup, and mayo is not really my thing. The question then is: how did they get a steak sauce without cooking a steak?

Now is the time to use the instant gravy. But not on its own.

In a frying pan or sauce pan, add a teaspoon of olive oil and about 50mL (one or two shots worth, again, depending on your standard) of liquid stock obtained however you wish – stock cubes, pre-packed stock, gravy granules. Bring this to a simmer and add a tablespoon or so of crème fraîche, and stir this in completely. Add herbs and pepper etc to taste.

It is now done. Serve in a dipping bowl next to fries, or simply pour onto pasta, rice, potatoes, refry bread in it… your call. It’s already fairly unorthodox anyway.

Principles of Stir-Fry

I originally wrote this in an email to my cousin, and have kept it around as a reference should I need to give it to anyone. Since I have posted already two articles on the subject of cooking, I decided it was time I re-visited it at last…

And here’s the final installment in Tai’s cooking rants!

What’s the secret to a good stir fry? The answer: sesame oil, plenty of fragrant spices, thinly chopped ingredients and… a wok. Accept no substitutes.

Stir fry, like curry and risotto, is a concept dish. There’s a vague principle behind it, which is not ingredient-specific. It’s not as easy to pull off as a curry, but it remains fairly straightforward.

Here then are the key steps in the making of a stir fry…

1/ The four components

There are four principle components to a stir fry: the carbohydrates (or soy alternatives), the protein (not strictly necessary but highly advisable), the vegetables, and the spices.

a/ The rice

I’ll refer to “rice” out of practicality, although this could refer to egg noddles, rice noodles, rice, or even soy noodles if you need to cut down on carbohydrates.

As a general rule, you should use types that have as little of their own taste as possible, so as not to create a conflict later with your vegetables and spices. Once you are accustomed to doing your own stir fry, and know what effect each has, then you can start using such things as risotto rice or whole meal pasta.

I tend to prefer Thai or Basmati rice, although American long grain is also suitable. In noodles, I prefer thinner ones, egg or rice I don’t mind. Super fine noodles however tend to be destined for soups, but will do fine.

Without wanting to bash any brands in particular, there is one specific company that makes its noodles taste like cardboard. My advice is: cook a sample of whatever you intend to use and taste it. If it has little taste when plain (no soy, no sauces, no seasoning, no nothing), it is usable. If its taste is strong, good or bad, it will interfere with the rest of the cooking.

b/ The protein

I’ll refer to “meat” to designate whatever you choose as the protein: sea food, poultry, pork, beef, venison… If you’re cooking for vegetarians, use ground beans or tofu…. you can even use potatoes and a bit of cornflour if you swing that way, anything that holds together in chunks.

Tofu is the one vegetarian protein source. Please don’t make the mistake of seeing it as a meat substitute, whatever anyone says. It is a food in its own right, and I would gladly use tofu one day and pork the next. It absorbs the flavours around it and is especially well suited to this kind of cooking.

Chicken tends to work well with herbs and fruits. Turkey is a good replacement too if you are slightly tight on budget, noting that you can still get away with a good stir fry with about a half a chicken breast’s worth per person.

Duck and pork tend to be better with sweet marinades, and then grilled – I once had a marinade recipe for pork for 4 people requiring 5 table spoons of sugar. Delish. If you do use sugar in the marinade, I must caution you: sugar caramelizes under heat. Anyone who has tried using sugar in a pot will probably admit having had to throw the pot away. In this case, you’d be better off grilling – place a pan covered in tin foil under the grid to minimize cleaning requirements.

Beef tends to be more “earthy” and I would more likely use seasonings like cumin, ginger and garlic with it. If you’re thinking spicy, beef stands up to it better than other meats I find.

Avoid fish, as this kind of meat is too delicate for the purposes of a stir fry. Rather, make a vegetable stir fry to serve along side fish.

Sea food can also be the basis for stir fry, although not being a seafood fan, I cannot advise on it.

You can also use any leftover meat from previous meals, with gravy instead of stock – this would be added then only in the finalization stage. Trust me, this works wonders 🙂

c/ Vegetables

Whilst vegetables are vegetables, include here any form of fruit, leaf or root you wish.

Note that cabbage (which is often used in Asian dishes) has a bitter taste so you may want to shallow boil that for about 5 min before doing anything with it. Same goes for courgettes and aubergines. The added work means I generally omit these.

d/ Seasoning

By “spices” I will be referring to spices, herbs and various other seasonings.

Also, there are a number of common sauces to be found in an Asian kitchen. They are all pretty potent – a little goes a long way. They include (and are in no way limited to):

-sesame oil: a must, gives a distinct smell of “Chinese restaurant” and a sweet background taste

-soy sauce: another must. This replaces salt entirely, and should be used sparingly

-oyster sauce: very sweet – but don’t treat it like sugar. Use for anything in the protein line when you’re going to fry.

-hoi sin sauce: generally for chicken and pork. Very sweet. And kinda fruity in its way. Great for marinating something that’ll be grilled.

-fish sauce: also known as “nuoc mam” (say nwok-mam). Very fishy and rather salty. Used in soups quite often, and not strictly sea food: I recall a recipe for chicken noodle soup that relied heavily on fish sauce. The raw smell is off-putting, but its effect if used wisely and once cooked is magnificent.

2/ The utensils

There are four essential tools when working the stir fry path:
-the round-edged wooden spoon or spatula, of strong build
-the non-stick wok, as large as your hob can handle
-the super sharp 6-inch knife, or cleaver
-the big wooden chopping board – and I mean *big*

Keep in mind that the wok is designed to distribute heat evenly. Don’t use any ordinary pan.

I insist that the spoon or spatula be wooden and round-edged – not plastic, and certainly not metal. You need to use a non-stick wok where the food will not stick to the sides – a lot of heat and frying means that without the non-stick property this will happen a lot if you don’t keep things in motion constantly.

You will damage your pan severely if you use anything but a round-edged wooden implement on this kind of wok. Use a metal implement here and after two or three meals, you might as well be cooking on a car bonnet.

Always keep your knife sharp. Lots of chopping and dicing is involved. To avoid dulling the edge, when you scrape stuff from the chopping board with the knife, use the blunt edge, not the sharp edge.

So yeah, a chopping board too. Doing it on the counter will only destroy the surface, not to mention that it’s hard to pick up the counter and bring your chopped ingredients to the wok.

3/ Prepare the rice

Prepare your rice (or equivalent) in advance, as this should ideally be cold when you add it finally to the stir fry. If you’re in a rush, having it ready an hour before you start cooking the vegetables is decent. There is no inherent problem in using the freshly made hot rice straight from the pot, but for reasons unknown, it’s better if it has been cooled for a while.

Note that if you are using noodles that are of the quick-cooking sort, you can add these when finalizing. Just pour some boiling water into the wok and add the noodles. Don’t be too enthusiastic on the water. If the noodles are not cooked by the time the water is absorbed/evaporated, you can add more water. The opposite will yield mush and a longer time to get the excess to evaporate.

4/ Prepare your meat

Chop the meat into pieces no more than about half an inch at its thickest point. If it’s seafood, you can generally leave it as is.

Generally, you’ll want to marinate by adding some seasoning to the meat an hour or so before you cook it. This can be anything, from something basic like rubbing some crushed garlic over it and sprinkling with coriander and a bit of soy, up to a complex marinade as done for satay or char siu.

I have been known to use an alcohol base for a number of my marinades, as they add a nice flavour (and gives me a good excuse to buy more up-market bottles). For example, letting the beef soak up some red wine and a couple of teaspoons of sugar.

A note about using alcohol in cooking: stewing and marinating in alcohol is fine and dandy on any day, in any style, but one rule is golden: If you wouldn’t drink it, Don’t cook with it. That’s absolute.

5/ Prepare the vegetables

a/ Fire up the wok

You’ve prepared your meat, good. Heat the wok to “pretty damn hot”, with some regular oil and a hint of sesame oil. If you want to use one of the above mentioned sauces, why not. Remember that they’re all potent, and a little goes a long way.

At this point, you can add any combination of spices you want. Cumin is strong and potent, giving a beefy punch, garam masala is sweet, coriander seed is nice and mellow. Choose what you like according to what is needed, if anything at all.

Now throw in the meat, stir well, and get at the greens. The finer you can chop them, the better. Stir the meat from time to time to keep it cooking and not charring.

b/ Get the greens in order

Ideally, you want all the vegetables to be soft when they reach the mouth. This is where emphasis really needs to be put on the dicing as small as possible.

Remember that things like leeks, celery and most roots like carrots and radishes are very fibrous and will take longer to cook. Other softer items like onions, spring onions, tomatoes and sweet pepper will take a lot less time.

I would advise to only use about three or four different vegetables in one go, but that’s entirely up to your taste in the end.

To minimize time spent on the whole, chop the tougher vegetables first, add them to the hot wok, and then chop the less tough ones whilst the others are cooking. Remember to give the wok a stir every minute or so.

6/ Finalize the taste

The meat should be completely cooked by now, and the vegetables all soft. At this point, if there is any liquid left from marinating, add it in. Wait for the liquid to start bubbling before proceeding any further.

If you have any stock at hand, use some; otherwise stock cubes or stock powder/granules are fine too when dissolved in a bit of boiling water.

Add your rice (or affiliate) to the mix and stir it all up so that the ingredients are evenly spread out. Here is where you add the dry noodles, as mentioned previously.

Taste it. If the flavour needs enhancing, add some stock, or a little bit of soy – but not too much. Use soy sparingly, taste your food, and add sparingly again. Many of my own dishes went wrong from my hand slipping on the soy.

7/ Done

Take the wok off the fire, grab some chop sticks (or if you are less dexterous, a fork) and a plate or tall bowl.

I like to eat my stir fry accompanied with a nice pot of green jasmine tea. Pu’er tea is not bad either. Both are recommended by doctors, dieticians, Buddhists, Taoists, yogis, and my mum and I. It’s probably the only medicine any normally constituted person would be hard put to overdose on, and just about the only thing I will accept to take for colds, headaches, stomach aches and weariness.

Chow time!

Principles of Curry

True to form, this installment of Tai’s cooking ramblings is about CURRY.

So I have gone over a number of curry recipes in my Asian Cookbook, scouring them for any patterns. The patterns for currying are fairly simple, and I think I have pretty much understood the why of most methods….

Note that I will only talk about meat-based curries, as these are all I have been able to read up on so far. And all I am interested in, to be quite honest.

0) Main concepts

Firstly, curry is basically about adding spices to your otherwise main ingredients.

Secondly, know there are two main ways of spicing your meat: marinated in a bowl for several hours (or even days), or using heat from the pan.

Thirdly, know that there are two main types of curry: dry curry and curry with sauce.

Fourthly, for sauce-based curries, know that you can add the meat you are currying to the pan before the liquid, after the liquid, or with the liquid.

And now for the general template…

1) Select the spices

There is a wide array of spices to choose from, and most of them are of the type that do not burn your mouth. When I say “spicy”, this does not necessarily imply “using paprika/chili/hot peppers”. Think of turmeric, saffron, cumin, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, the humble onion, coriander seed, etc etc. These are all spices. You can also include herbs in this list as well, along with usual seasonings such as salt and pepper, and even fragrant teas if you so want.

Some have more of a musty taste, some more sweet, some are simply colourful without being too strong in aroma, some are grassy… Use your nose and a bit of imagination. Think of the kind of meat you are going to use.

The combinations are limitless.

2) Chop the meat

In curries, the meat is cooked in bite-size chunks from the start. Most of the combining of the ingredients happens pretty quickly, so it is important that the meat be cut before anything else is done. At this point I should note that a little goes a long way. Say you would serve a quantity of two chicken breast fillets for one person. I would use two chicken breast fillets for a curry for four to five people. Especially when a sauce will be present.

In the same vein, any large/long vegetables you intend to use should be sliced and diced in advance, for the same reason, although this is less of a concern. Do as you see fit.

3) Spice the meat

Here’s where we start to make variations:

a) Marinate

Marinating meat is a matter of mixing the meat with a selection of the spices you are using. In a bowl, add the spices with a tablespoon or two of water, and stir to mix evenly. You can even use a blender for this, if you are using, say nuts or fragrant vegetables.

Then mix in the meat so that each piece is nicely coated. You can use your hands to do this, it is much more efficient than trying to play around with a ladle or spatula. Just remember to wash thoroughly before and after.

Leave this marinade in a bowl in ambient temperature for 2-3 hours, or covered in the fridge for a day or two. In the fridge, covering is important – otherwise all the contents of the fridge, especially the butter, will taste of curry thereon after…

b) Heated in the pan

You can simply heat oil in the pan and add all the spices immediately. You will need to ensure that everything you are going to use is at hand, because this is going to go pretty fast and you don’t want anything burning.

3 bis) The pan spices / softening the vegetables

This is basically like 3b), except that 3a) there will be a separate set of spices that you are heating in the pan, as opposed to the ones that you are marinating the meats in. They could actually be exactly the same, but there’s little point in that.

This applies especially when you are using vegetables as well as the meat, wherein you are softening them before proceeding to the rest of the cooking. If using onions or other vegetables, some recipes call for browning, some advise against.

The effect of browning onions and garlic is, beyond softening them, is also breaking down some of their more potent components into sweeter versions. Again, depending on what you are trying to achieve, do it or don’t do it, at leisure.

4) Add the liquid (optional)

A curry does not necessarily need to be a sauce. As a point of illustration, chicken tikka is (or so I am told) a dry curry, that was brought to the UK from India. Chicken tikka masala however was allegedly invented in Glasgow, when the autochtonous eaters wondered why the curry was so dry… No sauce to dip their chips in.

a) Nature of the liquid

i) The classic liquid is coconut milk. You can find this in cans or cartons in supermarkets, or in Asian food stores you can even find bags of dried coconut milk. The latter is better value for money, though you have to prepare it in advance of your cooking (takes two minutes).

ii) The other very popular liquid base is yoghurt or cream. Mild or sour, yours to decide which you use. I personally would go for the milder variety, as it interferes less with the spices I selected, but that’s simply a point of opinion.

b) Adding the liquid

i) Liquid first – If you add the liquid first, you are essentially allowing it to absorb the spices and the vegetables flavour in advance of adding the meat. In such a way, flavours are likely to bleed both ways, from sauce to meat and meat to sauce.

This is also useful if the meat is quick-cooking and you can’t allow it to be in cooking heat for too long, such as with some fish and most seafood.

ii) Meat first – In this case, you are not really adding much of the flavours to the meat, as when it hits the hot pan, searing will occur, sealing up the meat. Make sure you are stirring well so that none of the meat is burned, or end up unevenly cooked. Some juices might bleed out into the pan, but the meat will generally keep a relatively distinct flavour from the sauce.

Once searing is complete – the outside of the meat is cooked, but the inside is still pretty raw – you can add the liquid.

This technique is most advisable if you’ve marinated the meat with different flavours than those you heated in the pan.

iii) Meat and liquid together -You might also have been marinating the meat in spices in the liquid in advance. In which case, just add everything together. It becomes a bit like the situation described in 4bi), except that the liquid at this point is still cold, and everything will heat up together.

Quite frankly, I have no idea in what situations you would do this. It’s just that I’ve read it, so I include the idea.

5) Simmer for a while

In the case of sauce-based curries, you will need to leave time to simmer for the meat to cook. This is best based on your judgement, and how small your meat pieces are.

A rough bet is about ten/fifteen minutes simmering, whilst stirring from time to time to avoid the mixture burning to the bottom of the pan.

You can check the readiness by isolating a big chunk of meat and cutting it at its thickest to see if it is cooked all the way through.

6) Eat it 🙂

And it’s done. Serve with white rice – Thai or Basmati are the classic types (please note that for best delectation there should be around two volumes of rice per volume of curry) – or couscous, or even simply on/with bread.

Enjoy!

Post Scriptum

To illustrate the limitless spice combination concept, I have a little anecdote.

When I was a child, I used to like the idea of potions – from comics like Asterix (and the Druid Competition story), through various fairy tales, and other alchemic stories, I just imagined myself concocting some miraculous potion.

Goodness knows why, but one day I raided my mother’s spice cabinet. I took a little bit of each spice powder in there and put it in a milkshake shaker I had got as a freebie somehow. The deed done, I proceeded to add a spoon of it to boiling water. To my dismay, it didn’t even dissolve into an interesting soup. I sealed the mixer and left it in my bathroom for years.

When cleaning out my room once I had left for uni, my mother chanced upon this magical mix and recognized the contents as spices. Having verified this with me, and I “not being able” (read: not willing) to detail the reason for its existence, multiple curries were made out of it.

They were each eminently palatable, even if I do say so myself. Pretty impressive for a completely random, unmeasured mix of spices… 😀

Next time on the Tai cooking channel: stir fry, or turning leftovers into feature meals.

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).