Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rice, Rice, Baby!

The blog author, muddywaters, circa 1984. Am I wearing a Garanimals polo?)
(Picture Courtesy of Pomona High School yearbook)

Let's travel back to the winter of 1984 to Pomona High School. I'm practicing with the freshmen basketball team in some ball-handling drill. I'm gracelessly and sluggishly handling the basketball like it was a watermelon, but I'm doing it with the enthusiasm of kid who has dreams of being the next Dr. J. When the head coach pulls me out of a drill to have a man-to-man talk with me, my pulse quickens. The varsity coach wanted to talk to me - Naively, I thought this was good sign. He asked me how things were going. Still under the delusion that I was going to be promoted to varsity ranks, I enthusiastically said, "Great!"

Then he dropped a bombshell suggestion, "Maybe you should quit the team and take stats for us."

At that moment, I understood the for the first time the meaning of the word crestfallen, but I still agreed to his proposition and finished my high school career as the stat man for my high school basketball team. To this day, I'm still grateful for my coach's honesty.

Now you're probably wondering what this has to do with food. Well, my friends, today I'm here to talk about fundamentals, the basics that form the foundation of an art like cooking. As a youngster I never mastered basic basketball skills like dribbling, passing, or shooting the ball. It's difficult to bring your "A" game when the fundamentals are absent.

Since I strive to always bring my "A" game to the kitchen, I periodically set out on a quest to perfect a simple cooking process or skill, so that it's automatic and done well. In the kitchen I constantly strive to master the little things. Last year I'm embarked on a journey to perfectly cook rice. Prior to my quest, my rice turned out lumpy, mushy, and possessing the flavor of wallpaper paste. My rice would be right at home on a hospital cafeteria tray alongside the turkey loaf.

I wanted to cook rice that possessed a fluffy, airy quality while maintaining its shape and good consistency. This business of cooking rice was foreign to me. As a child we never ate a lot of rice, unless it was Spanish rice or some other boxed Rice-O-Roni dish. In our Kansas household the potato was the King of the Starches. No meal was complete without potatoes.

I credit much of my rice education to Cooks Illustrated. In fact, this is usually the first source I'll turn to when strive to master a process.

To perfectly cook rice, you'll need the following:
  • 2 teaspoons of oil
  • 1 cup of Basmiti Rice (You could simply use a white, long-grained rice, but I like the texture, flavor, and aroma of Basmiti Rice. Typically, this rice is grown in India, but a similar variety called Texmiti is grown by RiceSelect. I prefer the Texas-grown variety because I believe it's superior in taste and aroma.)
  • 1 1/2 cups of water (I sometimes use just 1 1/4 cups of water if I want a nuttier texture.)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  1. Begin by heating the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Once the oil is heated, stir in the rice. Occasionally stir until the rice develops a pleasant, popcorn-like aroma.
  3. Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil.
  4. Turn the burner to low, cover the rice, and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the burner and allow the rice to sit with the lid on for another 15 minutes.
  6. Remove lid and fluff the rice with a fork.
Now you should have perfectly cooked rice. You can serve it as is, or you can use this in a variety of other rice dishes. Over the next few days, I'll share a few of my favorite rice recipes along with a few new ones. Stay tuned.

Tomorrow - Texas Stir Fry
Thursday - Rice Pilaf/Cilantro-Lime Rice
Friday - No blog. I get the night off to watch the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament
Saturday - Mahnomin Porridge

P.S. This is by no means the definitive way to cook rice. This is just the method that I prefer. I'm no expert. I'm just a smalltown Kansas boy, who can't play basketball, but who loves to cook.

Some cooks advocate rinsing the rice with water before cooking it. I don't normally do this, but feel free to do so.

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