...more meowycakes: December 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How to cook rice perfectly

How to Cook Rice Perfectly

2007-3-7 10:40:00 From:

Letting your rice rest enlarges the window of opportunity for serving perfectly cooked rice

by Niloufer King

Aside from differences in culture, many Americans shy away from rice due to a fear of cooking it. (Hence the popularity of instant rice, which offers "perfect" rice--in exchange for flavor and texture.) While exactly how rice cooks changes from variety to variety, even from batch to batch (brown rice cooks longer than white, for example; old rice absorbs more water than new) getting consistently good results is not impossible. In fact, the method that works best is practically the same as the one on the back of the box. But what the back of the box neglects to mention is the importance of letting the rice rest before serving it.

These days, most rice comes free of dirt, gravel, and chaff so there's rarely a need to patiently pick through it. Washing rice is another matter. Outside the U.S., talc is still sometimes used as a milling aid and should be rinsed off in a few changes of cold water. Though rice with talc should be labeled as such, I rinse if there's the slightest doubt. Some people also find that rinsing washes off loose starch, making the rice less sticky. (In the U.S., rice is enriched with vitamins, but only a small amount gets washed away if the rice is rinsed.)
Whether you soak rice depends on time and tradition. Apart from habit, the reasons for soaking rice are to shorten the cooking time and to allow for maximum expansion of long-grain rice, particularly basmati. A soak also makes the grains a little less brittle so they're less likely to break during cooking. If I'm using older basmati, which needs to be treated carefully if it's not to break, I soak it first. (Recipes vary in suggested soaking times, with 30 minutes most common.) But for most everyday meals, I skip this step and still get good results. If you do soak your rice, be sure to drain it thoroughly or you'll be using more water in cooking than you intended.

Cooking rice by the absorption method is simple and reliable
I grew up in a household that only boiled rice and only basmati at that. We'd tip some rice into a large pot of boiling water, adjust the heat to keep the rice just dancing to the surface, and check it now and again by taking a bite. When the rice was resilient without a trace of central hardness, the water got poured off and saved for soup. To make the rice dry and fluffy, we'd tip it back into its pan, cover it, and cook it further over very low heat.

I now prefer the absorption method. In this more streamlined process, the rice is cooked in a measured amount of water so that by the time the rice is cooked, all the water has been absorbed. As the water level drops, trapped steam finishes the cooking.

For every cup of rice, use 1-1/2 to 2 cups of water (less if the rice is washed first). You'll need to experiment a little to find the amount you like best, but in general, use the larger amount for long-grain rice, the lesser for medium and short. Keep in mind that more water gives you softer, stickier rice--great for stir-fries. Less water will keep the grains more separate and result in firmer rice, a good style for rice salads.
Use a sturdy pot with a tight-fitting lid
You want a pot with a heavy base for the most even cooking, and one that's big enough to provide plenty of room above the rice for steam. A tight lid keeps the steam in. If your lid fits loosely, put a clean kitchen cloth between the lid and the pot. (Be sure to fold it over onto the pot so it doesn't burn.) The cloth also absorbs the water that would normally condense on the inside of the lid and fall back down into the rice, so this is also a good trick to get drier, fluffier rice.

A bit of butter or olive oil will also help keep the grains from sticking together, while a little salt adds flavor.

Once all the ingredients are combined, cover the rice and let it simmer. On an electric stove, use two burners: bring the rice to a boil on a hot burner and then immediately slide it to a burner set on low to continue cooking at a slow simmer.

After about 12 minutes, the liquid should be absorbed, and the rice still al dente. If you served the rice now, you'd find the top layer drier and fluffier than the bottom, which can be very moist and fragile. Here's where you need patience. Let the rice sit off the heat, undisturbed with the lid on, for at least 5 minutes and for as long as 30. This results in a uniform texture, with the bottom layers as fluffy as the top. That a pot of rice actually improves with a rest also gives you more flexibility for cooking the rest of the meal.
Fixing not-so-perfect rice
If you follow these guidelines, perfectly cooked rice is attainable. But it's an imperfect world, and the telephone has a way of ringing at inopportune moments. So here are ways to fix rice that has turned out less than perfectly:

Problem: The rice is still very chewy or hard in the middle after the allotted time.

Solution: Add just enough water to create a little steam, 1/4 cup or less. Put the lid on and cook the rice on very low heat for another 5 minutes.

Problem: The rice is cooked but too wet.

Solution: Uncover the pot and cook over low heat to evaporate the water. Or gently turn the rice out onto a baking sheet and dry it in a low oven.

Problem: The grains are split and the rice is mushy.

Solution: Use the rice for rice pudding and start over if you have the time.

Problem:The bottom layer of rice has burned.

Solution: Run cold water over the outside of the pot's bottom to keep the burnt flavor from permeating the rest of the rice (don't add water to the rice itself).Tip out as much rice as you can salvage.

You can avoid such problems by breaking the cardinal rule of rice cooking ("never lift the lid") and actually looking to see how it's doing. I for one have done so and lived to tell the tale. A quick peek will tell you if most of the water has been absorbed and that it's time to let the rice sit off the heat. The point is to keep the lid off for just a flash.

Anthropologist Niloufer King researches, teaches, and writes on tropical food plants and cuisines, with a special interest in street food.

Friday, December 14, 2007

In honor of Monkeee who is on the East Coast

Hee! Rodents!

Monkeee coming to Maryland - she's in Boston now.

Kids' wisdom

This was forwarded to me from a friend.

Little kids crack me up.

How would you make your marriage work?
Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck.
Ricky, age 10

How can a stranger tell if two people are married?
You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.
Derrick, age 8

What do you think your mom and dad have in common?
Both don't want any more kids.
Lori, age 8

What do most people do on a date?
Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.
Lynnette, age 8 (isn't she a treasure?)

On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.
Martin, age 10

What would you do on a first date that was turning sour?
I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.
Craig, age 9

When is it okay to kiss someone?
When they're rich.
Pam, age 7

The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that.
Curt, age 7

The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do.
Howard, age 8

What is the right age to get married?
Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.
Camille, age 10

No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.
Freddie, age 6 (very wise for his age)

Is it better to be single or married?
I don't know which is better, but I'll tell you one thing. I'm never going to have sex with my wife. I don't want to be all grossed out.
Theodore, age 8

It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.
Anita, age 9 (bless you child)

How do you decide whom to marry?
You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.
Alan, age 10

No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with.
Kristen, age 10


OMG the aging process sucks. I just got my updated eye exam and I have been officially prescribed full time-wear progressive eyeglass lenses. (That's no-line bifocals to the unfamiliar)
I knew I was having problems seeing the computer and the teeny tiny detail work on my knitting & beading for the last month or so, and had been prescribed optional near vision glasses in the past... but this is too depressing. Now I have to take my own advice LOL
Bring me my cane & walker and point me towards AARP!