Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Steamed rice, refined

Every so often, cooking rice obsesses me (see below, and previous posts, including this). The following method, I reckon, works perfectly with most of the widely available brands of Basmati rice, so I should be able to give the subject a rest for a while.

1) Soak rice for 20 minutes or longer.

2) Drain, tip into a saucepan, and cover the grains with 1.5 times their volume of cold water. Add salt, if you like.

3) Bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to its lowest, cover the pan, and put a heat disperser under it.

4) Cook for a further 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and serve when you're ready.

Pre-soaking means that the rice will soften in less water. (If you are cooking 250g or more rice, you may find that you need less than 1.5 times its volume of water. Covering it by a mm or two should work.) By the end, its surface is dry, and it separates when stirred, even after it has stood for a while. Boiled straight from the packet and then covered, it is apt to clump.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rice, steamed

My most recently recommended method of cooking rice works very satisfactorily. (Wash, bring twice its volume of water to the boil, tip in rice and a little salt if you like, lid on, return to boil, heat down, simmer for 10 minutes, drain.) But I get restless after doing things the same way for a while.

Yesterday, I soaked my rice for half an hour - as when you soak beans or lentils, it has a softening effect, and reduces water consumption and cooking time. I measured out water to 1.5 times the volume (of rice), poured it into a pan with a little salt, and tipped in the rice (drained). The water came to just above the level of the rice.

If you cook unsoaked rice in just 1.5 times its volume of water, it may remain hard - it will absorb the water too quickly, and the subsequent steaming will not tenderise it. The pre-soaking compensates for the less efficient tenderising process; the cooking time is probably the same as for boiling unsoaked rice. I reckoned that giving the rice a longer submersion, by starting it from cold, would aid the process.

I brought the rice to the boil in the covered pan, turned down the flame, and allowed 15 minutes in total.

The cooked grains were smaller than normal. The rice clumped a bit, but separated when fluffed with a fork. The Basmati rice available here in France tends to get mushy more readily than do the brands I buy in England, so this process may work better there. I may be on to something.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stock, covered

Stock should be simmered in an uncovered pan, is the conventional wisdom. Covered, the liquid boils too rapidly; impurities that would otherwise float to the surface, to be skimmed off, get absorbed, and turn it cloudy. A temperature just below boiling point is sufficient to extract the flavour and the collagen (which converts to gelatine).

Some years ago, I read a piece by Heston Blumenthal recommending that you cook stock in a pressure cooker. That way, he said, the flavour did not disperse. I was sceptical: was steam from a simmering pot really carrying away valuable flavour? Surely, if you wanted to concentrate flavour in a sauce, you boiled it uncovered? Nevertheless, I tried the Blumenthal technique. It produced stock that tasted flat and stale. (As I mentioned in the comments section of a previous piece.)

I wonder now whether the tired flavour was produced by overcooked vegetables. As I have written before, you should add vegetables to a stock no more than 40 minutes before the end of cooking it. And do we home cooks need to worry about cloudy stocks? We're not producing consomme - or, if we are, we should probable clarify the liquid anyway.

So now I am experimenting with covered pans. The advantage of them is that, once you are sure that the liquid is simmering gently (I use the smallest ring on the hob, and put a heat disperser under the pan), you can leave the pot for several hours without worrying that the stock is boiling away. The appearance of the stock is little different, and the flavour is at least as good.

Perhaps my next experiment should be to try the pressure cooker again, without vegetables.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Baked spinach

It may have been crude, after finding some squeaky-fresh spinach at L'Aigle market, to subject it to an hour's cooking - nutritionally wasteful, too. Still, the result was delicious.

It is adapted from a recipe in Richard Olney's Simple French Food. Pictured is half a kilo of spinach, washed and sliced and crammed into the dish, with some salt. On the surface is scattered about 2 tbsps of flour, over which is dribbled olive oil - the idea being, I think, to protect the top layer of leaves. I baked the dish for 45 minutes at gas mark 6/200C. (Looking up Olney, I see that he recommends gas mark 8/230C for the first 10 minutes, gas mark 4/180C thereafter.) Then I spread a layer (about 3tbsps) of thick creme fraiche over the surface, and baked it (I might have turned down the heat at this point) for about 10 minutes longer.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Roast Charlottes

One of the mysteries of my cooking life is how the cheap, thin, elderly roasting pan pictured above, and that I use here in France, has a far more effective non-stick surface than the expensive, solid pan I use at home.

First, I roasted a chicken - with butter between the skin and the breast, olive oil smeared on the skin, half a lemon squeezed over, and the hull of the lemon, along with two garlic cloves, placed in the cavity. (Gas mark 6/200C for 30 minutes; gas mark 2/150C for a further 60. It was a 1.7kg bird. The oven here is probably hotter than the settings imply.)

I covered the chicken in foil, and tossed the sliced Charlotte potatoes (washed first in cold water) in the sauce it had left behind, along with a little more oil. The garlic cloves were not tender, so I put those in the pan too, with a couple of sprigs of rosemary. Gas mark 6/200C, for 60 minutes, with the potatoes turned half way through.

The stickiness of the roasting juices and the starch from potatoes that had not been parboiled would, at home, have necessitated a great deal of scraping. Here, the potatoes lifted from the pan easily.

We ate the chicken and potatoes with green beans and mayonnaise - the latter containing the two cloves of roasted garlic.