03 March 2009

Stock Rice

If you're cooking rice in stock: eff you. I can't tell you how many places I've been to, where the only ostensibly vegan thing on the menu was the rice, and they cook it in some dodgy stock. Meanwhile, next time you make plain rice, taste it, then taste your rice that you've cooked in stock. Tell me if that stock really added all that much to the dish, with regards to flavour, texture, or colour.

"Oh, but Dino! Stock isn't supposed to be strong tasting. It's supposed to be very mild."

Don't you love it when others make your argument for you?

I've ranted about stock long enough on the podcast, so I won't bore you again, but suffice to say that I think it's an utter waste of time, and vegetables. And, if you're talking food sensitivity, you really do want to avoid an ingredient where you've dumped a bunch of different things into a non-discriminate pot, and boiled it.

Here have been the results of my rice + stock experiments thus far:

Vegetable stock, fresh: No flavour, colour or texture change noticed.
Vegetable stock, from concentrate: Mild salty flavour, no colour or texture change.
Kombu dashi: No change in flavour, extremely mild change in texture (it became softer), change in colour was negligible
Kombu dashi with miso: Salty flavour, slightly softer texture, mild colour change

My point is, for my money, I'd sooner taste whatever it is I dumped into the rice pot to cook it. I can tell you right now that in those cases when I was fed rice where the host "forgot" to tell me that the rice was cooked in chicken stock, I really couldn't tell. So why did you do it in the first place? If you want to add more flavour to your rice, there's a couple of really simple ways to do it:

1. Add salt. When you add a bit of salt to the cooking liquid of any starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles), it imparts a salty flavour that is consistent throughout the starch. This is doubly true when using brown rice, where salt in the surrounding food takes longer to penetrate the tough grains.
2. Toast the uncooked rice in a little bit of oil in which you've popped some cumin and sesame seeds. The cumin, because it's a spice, does best when it's toasted in a little bit of fat, and the rice will smell nutty while toasting, and have a more separate texture. That tiny bit of toasting imparts a more nutty flavour. It's quite pleasant to smell cooking rice that's been toasted.
3. Start your skillet off with a bit of oil. Pop some cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Then add a bit of onion and ginger. Sprinkle on some salt and turmeric. Sauté until onions are browned. As of this step, feel free to add some frozen peas or corn or those mixed frozen vegetables, and cook over high heat until they're not frozen anymore, and browned to your liking.

Add the uncooked rice, and toast the rice in the spices and vegetables (if you used any veg) until it smells nutty. Then add to your rice cooker, and cook as normal. Alternately, add water directly to the skillet, and allow the water to come to a boil. Once it comes to the boil, drop down the heat to as low as it'll go, slam on the lid, and allow it to cook for 20 - 45 minutes, depending on what kind of rice you have (brown, white, sushi, basmati, etc.), until it's tender and cooked through. Top with toasted nuts of your choice.

Rice is a flavour junkie, and will take whatever you can throw at it, and absorb it. Unfortunately, that means that you have to factor in that your rice needs to be flavoured strongly if you want for the flavours to show through. This means that those wimpy flavours, like stock or soup, won't come through. Look at any culture that knows how to eat rice, and how they cook their rice:
- Jamaicans love their rice and peas, which is a combination of rice, beans, scallions, allspice, thyme, scotch bonnet chili, and coconut milk. All of those flavours are very strong, and they come through in the end.
- Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans alike adore their gallopinto, which is a mix of ginger, garlic, onions, cumin, coriander, fresh cilantro, peppers, all of which are cooked together before adding the beans, and then the rice.
- Sweet pongal, which is eaten during festivals, is cooked with coconut, palm sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and clove, and then rice.
- Venn pongal (it's in the book) is the cumin, ginger, turmeric, split peas, and then rice.

The point I'm getting to is that if you want to have one-pot rice with plenty of flavour, go ahead and do so. But please, for the sake of my sanity, put the stock away.