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Saturday, October 16, 2010

R(eally) I(ncr(edibly)) C(lean and) E(asy)

That's right, that monstrosity up there is an acronym. AAFR. An Acronym for Rice.

I have been here for four years, and, as far as I can remember (a blog search confirms this), have not written a post about rice. Over the years I have shared my experiences with Kimchi and Bulgogi, lotus and pheasant, pancakes and octopodes. And yet not once have I devoted a post explicitly to the little grainy guy that that makes a meal a meal and not just some random collection of sides with nothing to tie them together.

There are reasons for said dearth. First of all, white rice is boring. Not particularly tasty, not particularly beautiful, not particularly healthy. Second, it's everywhere. The only way to avoid it at a restaurant is to eat noodles, which may or may not be made of rice powder. Third, because of reasons 1 and 2, I don't usually cook it at home. Fourth, I was never very good at cooking it.

[There is a good reason for said inability to cook. When I first arrived, one of my coworkers gave me a rice-cooker that had been sitting around her house for years. It was a fairly low-quality device, with a burnt-out light and leaky steam catcher. It always burned rice to the bottom of the pan and dribble sludge onto the counter. Even though I kept spreadsheets detailing the ratios of rice to water and the cooking duration and all that, I could never quite get it right; matter over mind, I suppose. But, already possessing a (somewhat) (dys)functional rice cooker, I couldn't convince myself to buy another. This left me to choose between cooking rice and burning a third of it, cooking it in a pot when I already had a cooker, or just not bothering.]

That is, until now! In addition to teaching me how to use chopsticks, speak Korean, and deny myself pleasures in the name of the greater good*,**, I can now say that my time in the East has granted me some substantial rice-cooking skills.

I hereby impart them to you.

What to cook:

1) Mixed-grain rice (the more mixed, the better. I've seen 5, 7, 11, 14, 17, 25, and maybe 29-grain varieties. The 14-grain I used today includes sorghum, glutinous brown rice, barley, glutinous millet, corn, glutinous rice, brown rice, black rice, millet, split green peas and black beans, and 3 other legumes I can't translate ). Add about 1.5 times as much water by volume. Salt a little, if you like.


2) Get crazy! Chop up a little sweet potato or sweet pumpkin and toss it in! Unapologetically strew about some pea- or chest-nuts. Even some (shelled) sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Add a little more water if you dump in a lot of extras.

How not to cook it:

3) Many people go for what I like to call the "rice and water in a pot over heat" method. While time-tested and fairly simple, this method generally requires a fair amount of caution and attention, and even so, is likely to result in some inedible rice and unpleasant cleaning experiences. The more varieties of rice and beans you're cooking, the truer this is.

4) You may be tempted to use a pressure cooker to cook the rice faster. Good idea. Also, good luck. It's very hard not to scorch the bottom layer of rice. Furthermore, the steam often pulls off bean skins and rice hulls, lifting them straight up into the vent that you're supposed to use to release the steam. This screws with the pressure regulation and makes the process less predictable.

How to cook it:

5) Thus, after some advice from a NASA PhD acquaintance of mine*** and some experimentation on my own, I developed my own method. Put the rice concoction and concomitant water into a metal or ceramic bowl with tight-fitting lid. Put the lidded bowl (yes, the whole thing, not just the contents) on a steamer tray. Set the steamer tray inside a pressure-cooker with about an inch of water - just enough to get close to the steamer tray.

6) Boil for 15 or 20 or 25 minutes, depending on how much rice and what kinds. Turn off the heat and wait 5 or 10 more minutes. The temperature will drop and the pressure will decrease, so that when you finally knock the valve open,

Benefits of aforeimparted method:

- Because the transfer of heat from fire to rice is so mediated, there's no chance of burning anything. The method is therefore anticarcinogenic.

- Thus, no need for stirring or pacing. You can go watch a 20-minute TED talk while the rice is on. Worry about the state of the world, not about the state of your grub.

- No burning means no soaking scrubbing and scraping and scratching of pots.

- Also, the mediated heat transfer reduces the havoc of flying bean and rice skins. Plus, everything that does go a-flying is stopped by the lid of the cooking bowl, which, lacking slats and vents and all, is much easier to clean than the lid of the prsesure cooker.

- Because you're using a pressure cooker, it's quick. I suppose this saves on gas, too.

- And perhaps my favorite part: when you transfer the rice from the cooking bowl to your serving bowls, there may be a little bit of scuzz left over. If you wait to clean it, it may dry on and become a slight nuisance. HOWEVER, why don't you just pour the remaining, nearly-scalding-hot water from the bottom of the pressure cooker into the cooking bowl?! It will melt away the scuzz and cool off by the time you're ready to do the dishes. This is really great because you don't need to use as much new water to rinse the dishes, nor do you have to throw away all that precious gas-turned-heat energy that's stored in the water. THREE CHEERS FOR THE EFFICIENT USE OF RESOURCES.


*I think I was naturally good at this, though. Korea can't take all the credit.
**There may be (OK, there most certainly are) other contributing psychological issues as well. I know all about 'em, believe you me.
*** AKA Jeffrey A. "If there's anyone in the world who can subsist on only rice cakes and cheddar cheese spread, it's probably this guy" Hinkley.