I adore rice for a myriad of reasons, apart from being a basic store cupboard staple this little grain comes in a wide number of varieties, shapes, flavours and textures which lend themselves to an endless selection of both sweet and savoury uses.
The creamy rice pudding of my childhood with its bubbly golden skin was my first introduction to rice, it is still a favourite but was only the beginning.
I can’t quite remember when I first tasted rice served as an accompaniment to a savoury dish, certainly I was in my teens, it may well have been when I ventured to Dublin. Our meals at home would always have included the much-loved potato.
Rice is grown not just in Asia but also in the US, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam, Spain, Italy, Iran, Madagascar, Egypt, several of the African countries and Australia.
There are thousands of varieties but as with many other plants the number in commercial cultivation is quite small, however, farmers in many countries still continue to grow sometimes illegally, local low yielding varieties for their flavour and texture. Seed banks around the world are also doing their utmost to save endangered varieties for posterity. They may well be needed in the future, if the main crops become diseased. Monoculture is always a risky business as was clearly demonstrated by the Irish potato famine.
Rice grows in flooded fields called paddies, I particularly remember an image of rice workers with their conical hats working in the rice paddies on the way in from the airport in Vietnam some years ago. Water buffalo wallowed in a pond, ducks swam and fed, children chased frogs and collected tadpoles.
Why all the water, well our interpreter explained that it acted as a kind of thermal blanket which insulated the crop against excessive heat or cold, others said it was mainly to drown the weeds. The fields are never flooded for more than a few weeks at a time, otherwise the water would become stagnant. Fish and shellfish and other creatures also live and pass through the paddies and provide a farmer’s family with some extra protein.
When the rice is ready to harvest, the crop is cut and threshed, dried and milled.
The old-fashioned, non-mechanical way to thresh rice and indeed most other grains is to raise a handful aloft and bring it down forcefully on a hard surface. In Vietnam and many other countries in Asia the women then shake the rice through in a slatted bamboo sieve. The straw is trapped in the sieve or simply blows away, it is used for animal feed. Rice is an integral part of the culture in all these countries, part of the folklore, literature and architecture. The are beautiful rice barns, often intricately carved and decorated, where the rice spirit lives, and many customs and superstitions are attached to rice.
On a more practical level it is important to know the different types of rice by physical appearance and to understand which is best for different dishes.
Rice can be, long, medium or short grain, patna, rose pearl, red or black.
Broadly speaking long and medium grain rices are used in or eaten with savoury and main course dishes.
Short grain rice eg. Carolina, in Western countries, in rice puddings. However, Japanese short grain rice which is sticky in texture, is essential for sushi.
Some European rices are short grain and are used in savoury dishes, eg Calasparra which is used for paella.
Arboria, Carnaroli or Vilano nano are the varieties to seek out for risotto.
Red rice is in fact a brownish colour, considered by many to be inferior in quality, but in the Camargue in France a red variety is a regional speciality and is now becoming much sought after by chefs and gourmets. Red rice needs extra cooking time. Black rice which is actually a deep blackberry purple is also highly regarded.
Brown rice still includes the bran layer and is therefore more nutritious than white rice. It has a wonderfully nutty flavour but takes considerably longer to cook.
Don’t waste your money on par-cooked or boil in the bag rice, its so easy to cook rice, just use lots of water and a little salt.
Risotto with Smoked Salmon & Peas
The rice dishes of the Veneto region are famous. Rice was introduced there by the Arabs and many varieties of short-grain rice still grow in the marsh lands around the river Po.
In Venice, risotto is made almost liquid, its great quality is its immense versatility. The Veneto is richer in vegetables than any other area in Italy so all sorts of vegetables and combinations of vegetables are included in the dish as well as herbs, poultry, game, chicken livers or shellfish. There is even a risotto made with squid ink and another with pine kernels and raisins which is actually a legacy of the Arabs.
1-1.3L (1¾ - 2¼ pint) broth or or light chicken stock
30g (1oz) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
400g (14oz) arboria rice, Carnaroli or Vilano nano
30g (1oz) butter
175g (6oz) frozen peas, blanched and refreshed
150g (5oz) smoked Irish salmon cut into 3 inch (5mm) dice
fresh mint leaves
First bring the broth or stock to the boil, turn down the heat and keep it simmering. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes, until soft but not coloured. Add the rice and stir until well coated (so far the technique is the same as for a pilaff and this is where people become confused). Cook for a minute or so and then add 150ml (¼pint) of the simmering broth, stir continuously and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 150ml (¼pint) broth. Continue to cook, stirring continuously. The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if its too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside. If its too slow, the rice will be gluey. Its difficult to know which is worse so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously. The risotto should take about 25-30 minutes to cook.
When it is cooking for about 20 minutes, add the broth about 4 tablespoons at a time. I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on. The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly 'al dente'. It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick. The moment you are happy with the texture, add the peas and smoked salmon, taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve immediately.
Risotto does not benefit from hanging around.
Rice and Lentils with Crispy Onions
Le Mignon in Camden town make a dish which they call Mudarara -a version of this recipe - delicious comfort food, serve it alone or as part of a mezze.
680g (12lb) onions (about 4 onions)
100ml (4fl oz) olive oil
1L (1.75pints) water
250g (9oz) brown lentils
250g (9oz) basmati rice
salt and freshly ground pepper
Peel and slice the onions. Heat the oil in a saute pan, add the onions, toss and cook until golden.
Bring the water to the boil, add the lentils and cook for 20 minutes, add half the fried onions and the rice. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir well. Cover and cook on a very low heat for about 20 minutes or until both rice and lentils are cooked. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile continue to cook the remaining onions in the saute pan until crisp and caramelized. Serve the rice and lentils at room temperature sprinkled with the crispy onions.
Monkfish, saffron and artichoke paella
Sam Clark from Moro Restaurant in London showed us how to make this paella when he was our guest chef a few years ago.
Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main course
30-40cm paella pan or frying pan
7 tablespoons olive oil
400g (14oz) monkfish fillets cut into 2-3cm bite-sized pieces
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 green peppers, cut in half, seeded and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon whole fennel seeds
800ml (1 ¼ pints) fish stock
1 teaspoon saffron threads, about 100 threads
250g (9oz) Calasparra rice
70ml (3floz) white wine or fino sherry
2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
225g (8oz) piquillo peppers torn in strips
1 lemon, in wedges
sea salt and black pepper
Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in the paella or frying pan over a medium to high heat. Carefully add the monkfish to the pan and stir-fry until still fractionally undercooked in the centre. Pour the monkfish and any of its juices into a bowl to one side. Wipe the pan clean with kitchen paper, and put back on the heat. Add the remaining olive oil and when it is hot, the onions and peppers and cook for 15-20 minutes stirring every so often. Turn down the heat to a medium temperature and add the chopped garlic and fennel seeds and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the garlic and the onions have some colour and are sweet. Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil and add the saffron to the stock to infuse for 10 minutes. Now add the rice to the pan and stir to coat with the vegetables and oil. (Up to this point all this can be done in advance, and you need only continue 20-25 minutes before you wish to eat.) Put the heat to a medium to high temperature and add the white wine or fino to the pan followed by the stock. At this point, add half the parsley, the paprika and season perfectly with salt and pepper. Do not stir the rice after this point as it affects the channels of stock, which allow the rice to cook evenly. Simmer for 10 minutes or until there is just a little liquid above the rice. Spread the monkfish out evenly over the rice along with its juices. Push each piece of monkfish under the stock. Gently shake the pan to prevent sticking and turn the heat down to a medium to low temperature. Cook for five more minutes or until there is just a little liquid left at the bottom of the rice. Turn off the heat and cover the pan tightly with foil. Let the rice sit for 5 minutes before serving. Decorate with strips of piquillo peppers, the rest of the chopped parsley and wedges of lemon. We would serve this paella with a salad.
Kunie’s Sushi Plate
For starter - Serves 4
1 pint Japanese rice (short size – called No 1 Extra Fancy)
600ml (1 pint) water
100 ml (3½ fl.oz) rice vinegar
2 –3 tablespoons sugar (if you don’t like sweet taste, reduce sugar)
½ teaspoon salt
sheets of nori seaweed
7-8 slices tuna or smoked salmon (half) cut into 5mm strip (half) divide into two 2cm x 4 cm
2-3 avocado slice 3mm rectangular 2cm x 4cm
½ cucumber seeded and cut into 5mm strip
25g (1oz) Cheddar cheese cut into 5mm strip
3-4 basil leaves
Sauce and accompaniment
Soy-sauce or 4 parts soy sauce to 1 part mirin
Bamboo mat for rolling
Wash the rice well until the water runs clear. Soak in water for at least 1 hour before you cook. Bring to the boil on a high heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan, then reduce to minimum heat. Cook in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Before turning off the heat, turn to a high heat again for just 10 seconds. Remove from the heat and leave it for 10 minutes. Do not open the lid at any stage.
Meanwhile mix the vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl until it is dissolved. Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden). While it is still hot and pour the mixed liquid through the wooden spoon.
Mix them together as if you slice the rice with the wooden spoon. Don’t stir. You must do it quickly preferably fanning the rice with the fan. Allow to cool on the plate and cover with kitchen paper or a tea towel. (It will soak up the liquid)
Place nori on the bamboo mat and put the rice on it. Make a shallow indentation and put in the filling. Roll the mat. You can put whatever you like as the filling for example, smoked salmon and basil, cucumber, cheese….
Make a little long ball with rice. Put a slice of salmon or avocado on top. Garnish with fennel leaves or tie with a strip of nori.
Take a piece of cling film, place a leaf of coriander or chervil in the centre, then a square piece of smoked salmon and a little rice. Gather up the edges and twist into a ball. Remove from cling film onto a plate.
Cut the Norimaki into 6-8 pieces. Arrange 6 pieces of sushi in total on a plate. Put a little blob of Wasabi mustard about the size of a small pea on the plate, a little dish of Kikkoman Soy sauce and a few slivers of picked ginger.
To enjoy: put a tiny dot of wasabi on a piece of sushi, dip in soy sauce and eat with chop sticks.
Plain Boiled Rice
I find this way of cooking rice in what we call ‘unlimited water’ to be very satisfactory for plain boiled rice, even, dare I say, foolproof. The grains stay separate and it will keep happily covered in the oven for up to half an hour.
14 ozs (400 g/2 cups) best quality long-grain rice, eg. Basmati rice
8 pints of water
2 teaspoons salt
A few little knobs of butter (optional)
Bring 8 pints of water to a fast boil in a large saucepan. Add salt. Sprinkle in the rice and stir at once to ensure that the grains don’t stick. Boil rapidly, uncovered. After 4 or 5 minutes (depending on the type of rice), test by biting a few grains between your teeth - it should still have a slightly resistant core. If it overcooks at this stage the grains will stick together later.
Strain well through a sieve or fine strainer. Put into a warm serving dish, dot with a few knobs of butter, cover with tin foil or a lid and leave in a low oven, 140ºC/275ºF/regulo 1, for a minimum of 15 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff up with a fork and serve.
Rice in all its forms – rice flour, rice puffs, rice noodles etc. is suitable for coeliacs. Nature’s Way in Paul St in Cork make a range of breads from the ancient variety of Spelt wheat which can be enjoyed by those with wheat allergies. The coeliac bread is light and delicious.
How much rice do I need to cook – 1 cup of rice is adequate for 2 people.
Leftover rice should be kept refrigerated and eaten within 2 days. This is to prevent infection from Bacillus Cereus, an organism that dies below 4º/39ºF and above 60ºC/140ºF. In between these temperatures it multiplies rapidly and can result in a nasty tummy upset.
Growing Awareness is pleased to announce the first in a series of tree and food workshops on Sunday 4th April - The workshop on Apple Grafting will take place at Gortnamucklagh, Skibbereen from 11.00 to 4.30 and will cost €25 including lunch. For information and booking contact Paul McCormick, Tel 028-23742 – email:firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is supported by the Heritage Council.
Take a bite of the North West on Monday 5th April – At the launch of 315º Foods, the North West network of quality food producers, at the Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan. Open to the public at 3pm. Top chef Neven Maguire will be demonstrating simple and delicious recipes throughout the day and food expert John McKenna will answer questions.