Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Steaming rice

I am clueless. I fail to understand even quite straightforward aspects of the world's workings. Geography was one of my worst subjects at school: the explanations for such phenomena as the building of cities by rivers were opaque to me. Learning to cook has been a slow wrestle with this natural disability. When I first made a Bolognese sauce, I did not grasp that the reason why the contents of my uncovered pan were drying up was that the liquid was evaporating. That is how clueless I am.

A branch of the budget supermarket Lidl opened in Finsbury Park last week, offering a vegetable/rice steamer for the irresistible price of £9.99.
You put the rice basket inside the steamer basket. I tried it; 20 minutes later, my rice was still dry and hard. I checked Sri Owen's Rice Book, and discovered that you're supposed to put rice AND WATER into the basket. Doh!

I tried again, using my usual formula with Tilda basmati rice: one part rice by volume to two parts water. The rice was cooked after 20 minutes, but still sitting in water.

For my third attempt, I used just enough water to submerge the rice. Not bad, but a little clumpy. Perhaps the grains would have separated had I stirred a little butter or oil through them. The advantage of the steamer was that the rice did not stick to the basket.

My only fail-safe method of cooking rice is to boil it in plenty of water. Drained after 10 minutes, the grains are separate and of a perfect consistency. The "absorption method" -- by which you cook the rice in just the amount of water it will soak up -- preserves more flavour and nutrients; but, despite long experience of cooking the same brand of rice, I still get variable results. The quest goes on.


Anonymous said...

Hello Nick. What a pleasure to discover you here and in the New Statesman.

HOWEVER: when you write that you can't master the absorption method of cooking rice, I have to wonder what's going on.


1 - Measure rice and put in the pot.

2 - Measure water to 1.5 X the volume of rice. Into the pot.

3 - Bring to the boil.

4 - Heat right down, cover pot, set timer for 20 minutes.

5 - Test rice. Re-cover if it's still a little starchy at the centre.

6 - When done, fluff and serve.

I admit that things can occasionally go wrong. You have to use a thick-based pot or cooking is too rapid [and rice sticks to bottom]. In areas with very hard water, water measured to 1.75 X the volume of rice sometimes works better.

But it's worth mastering the absorption method because sometimes you will want to cook rice in stock, or another liquid too good to throw away.

Go on, give it another try!

And why not join the Guild of Food Writers?


Richard Ehrlich

Nicholas Clee said...

Dear Richard

Very nice to hear from you. I've just read a book called Don't Try This at Home, in which various chefs talk about culinary mishaps. Asked whether there are any dishes they find hard to get right, many of them reply "no"; but a few confess to difficulties with souffles or puff pastry. Most home cooks would say that they suffered from the culinary equivalents of blind spots. Mine may be rice.

One headache is that different rices absorb different quantities of water. Packet instructions are unreliable. In my book, I quote Tom Stobart's recollection of buying rice -- from a Bedouin trader -- that needed to be drowned in nine times its volume of water to cook properly.

You have to get it exactly right. Too much water, and the rice becomes sticky; too little, and it remains hard. I have been using a 2:1 ratio with Tilda basmati; I'll try reducing the water a little.

Knowing as you do that I am an unqualified interloper, you are generous to suggest the Guild. Perhaps if the Statesman column continues I'll start to think of myself as a proper food writer.

The Phantom said...

Can I suggest rinsing the rice in a sieve under gently flowing water for fifteen minutes or so before draining and cooking. This way white Basmati rice will be ready in about 10 or 11 minutes, and nice and light.

I note from earlier entries that you have a heat diffuser mat. I always use one under the rice, so it gets a really gentle simmer.

Keep up the blog! And Salutations to Richard Ehrlich, author of one of my favourite cookbooks, The Lazy Cook.

Nicholas Clee said...

Rinsing and/or soaking rice will certainly speed the cooking, just as it does for dried beans. My experience, though, is that soaked rice is more likely to be starchy and sticky.

I can only report my experience -- I know that others get different results. There's just something about me and rice.