Meals – Day 08: On cooking rice

8 Mar

While I’m making up my mind what to cook next, meals go on. No question about what to have in the morning; it would have to be oats, as I had defrosted my last bottle of school milk, and it needed to be consumed.

Day 08 Breakfast: Oats and banana

So oats it was; I added a banana to liven it up a little bit.

What can be done for lunch usually is a bit limited. After all, we don’t exactly have a fully-equipped kitchen at work and usually food needs to be prepared in advance. I had cooked potato and carrot yesterday night, and seasoned it this morning with some mixed herbs, salt and vinegar. The result was a simple but pleasant potato and carrot salad.

Potato and carrot salad

Most people who cook have a few default dishes, by which I mean the things they cook when they don’t have a lot of inspiration. For me, that would typically be a noodle stir-fry, but that would be when I’ve got all my ingredients available. I certainly wasn’t up to making noodles from scratch this time, so I went for the recommendation I received yesterday: to make a stir-fry with rice.

Given the poor quality of the rice, I decided to try a slightly different preparation method than I usually do. There are a few different ways rice can be prepared:

The “western” way is to cook rice in plenty of water, then drain when the rice is done. You’ll cook most of the flavour out of the rice, and you’ll then discard it, resulting in a fairly tasteless rice- but if that’s the way you like it, go ahead.

Then there’s the Mediterranean way, which is by cooking rice in an open pan; lots of moisture will evaporate, but by stirring and adding water (or stock) during boiling, eventually the rice will get done and most of the flavour will still be in the dish. All the agitation will however cause the grains of rice to get damaged, and the rice will be sitting in its own porridge. Depending on how well rinsed the rice was before preparation and on how much water is in there once the rice is considered done, it might stick together like a gloopy mess or have turned into a wonderfully light risotto.

The Asian way is different yet- the rice is covered with just enough water- a bit under an inch, depending on the size of the pan, which is chosen according to the amount of rice. As you can see, it’s not an exact science but roughly twice as much water as rice by weight seems to work for me. The rice is then brought to a boil, stirred once, covered and left to simmer on a very low heat until done. Under no circumstance should the pan be opened before the rice is done, meaning you can only pick this up by experience. By carefully listening to the pan, it is possible to tell when the water is gone- it will sound a bit different then. But if you know your rice, your pan, your hob and your water, setting a timer will do just fine.

The resulting rice will be dry, tasteful and just a tiny bit sticky, but not gloopy. Ideally it shouldn’t get sticky at all yet be full of flavour. With the cheap rice I’d been using, however, the result has been a lot gloopier than I prefer it, so I decided to try a bit different way; instead of adding water to the rice and bringing it to a boil, I tried adding the rice to boiling water instead, while stirring.

The idea was, that similar to preparing pasta, this would prevent the rice from sticking as its outside would get boiling hot but still be separated by water, whereas by doing it the other way around, the grains of rice would lean against each other before expanding, being pushed into each other and getting damaged. Otherwise I just cooked it the traditional Asian way: I stirred once, then covered the pan and waited.

It did seem to me that this batch of rice indeed turned out better than the ones before it, but maybe it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. I probably should try both ways side by side and see if there’s a noticeable difference.

Day 08: Stirfry with rice

The stir-fry was garlic, onion, cabbage, carrot and a chilli. In Chinese cuisine, flavourings always go first, and in a blazing-hot wok. You want to really char those ingredients to bring out their flavour. In this case, that meant that the garlic, ginger and chilli went in, to be followed shortly by the other vegetables (including the onion). This differs from European cuisine in that we’d probably sautee the onion first, then add the garlic. This difference in preparation method can make quite a noticeable difference in flavour.

I stirred up a tiny bit of flour with some water and mixed it into the stir-fried veg, turning off the heat. That way, any flavours left on the surface of the wok would be sort-of de-glazed into a sauce covering the food.

The result? Tasty. Not as tasty as it should be (where’s the soy sauce?) but definitely enjoyable. Far, far more enjoyable than that fat-free, saltless, spiceless broccoli version on day 1.

And my apple? I haven’t decided. I will eat it today, of course. Whether I’ve eaten it raw or still prepared a little something with it, I’ll tell you later.

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2 Responses to “Meals – Day 08: On cooking rice”

  1. Elizabeth Hull March 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Am catching up on your blog after a computer meltdown ! (Is there any easier way than scrolling UP to read DOWN, then further UP etc etc ?)
    I had no idea that people cooked rice in the way you describe as typically Western. Apparently my family have doing it the Eastern way without knowing (2 to 1 of water v rice by volume as assessed by eye).
    Protein (from whatever source) is still the most difficult to provide on a very tight budget. I love offal (except brains), and when my husband and I were first married we lived close to an old-fashioned butcher. I chose whatever was cheap – brains, heart, half a pig’s head, we tried all sorts of weird stuff ! But we had a monthly rather than a daily budget. Would you consider trying this experiment again with a weekly or monthly amount? After all it is those on a weekly paypacket that find it such a trial to make ends meet and reach the end of the week with nothing precisely because you can’t afford to plan ahead. Perhaps you’re seeing why it’s easier to eat cheap stuff full of trans-fats and sugar because nutrition as a science is hard.

    • kleinebre March 14, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

      I’m enjoying the challenge, but I also enjoy some freedom what to eat. I’ll definitely try to eat a bit more normally after this month again, but who knows if I’m in a crazy enough mood, I might try the different formats (weekly/monthly shopping) too. It will be harder to plan meals than right now- In the beginning of this challenge I noticed that it was easy to use all the good stuff for the first two meals of the day, only to be left with a doubly-hard challenge to cook up a nice supper. When doing this on a weekly or monthly basis, I imagine the same would happen on a bigger scale: meals at the start of each period would be interesting, but it would get harder and harder to make do with the remaining ingredients. Additionally in a “do all your groceries for a month at once” format challenge, it would take some planning to make sure food doesn’t go off before the end of the month.

      I’ve seen pigs heads selling at 3 pounds. It looks like there’s plenty of meat to be had from that – but any idea roughly how much to expect?

      I also find the idea appealing because it’s something I’ve never prepared before – so I’d have another opportunity to improve my cooking skills. I’ve watched some videos on pigs head preparation, so I’m at least mentally prepared for some of the gory details.

      Also, the way things are going, it’s almost within reach.

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