RICE AND EASY
I first ate rice when a Chinese restaurant opened locally to me in the 1970’s; it was still alien to Irish households back then except for rice pudding as a dessert which I would have had often at home. Rice is now as common as our spuds and it’s a base for national dishes in a dozen or more countries around the world, think paella, risotto, sushi and fried rice. It really is the perfect food and half the world lives on it for a start in its various forms. It gives higher and reliable yields, dries well, travels light, is relatively cheap, does not go off and is so nutritious with its high starch content. As whole grain brown rice with the retained bran layer its more richer again.
It started as wild grass in Asia and then it was farmed, reputedly first in China and has been eaten for a few thousand years it is believed. We have about eight thousand varieties growing in over one hundred countries taking about three to six months to harvest on each crop. It is also turned into flour, cereals, rice, noodles, desserts, vinegar and wine, like the Japanese sake. Rice is pretty much sacred in Japan. So if ever there was a commodity the world depended on its rice. There are more obese people now than malnourished on the planet as we hit a population of eight billion this year. That stat says it all for me.
A more sad fact is that just a few global companies actually own rice, outright. Now how does one get to own rice? You see there is serious politics in food too. Big Rice crucially control the seed market therefore dictating everything so farmers must abide by all the laws around plant patenting and their use, for example not reusing seeds.
The one question I always get asked on this subject though is about the best way to cook rice. So many people find it tricky. Of course it depends on which rice you are using and the dish you are making. The best advice is to wash it well before or after cooking, if cooling it down before a further reheat, as this will remove a lot of the sticky starch residue. Another tip is have the right amount of it, allow about a cupful per person.
Then a big pot is always a help, every kitchen should have one. It is handy for batch cooking and have one that is able to hold around five litres is my advice; your pasta boiling will love it too never mind making bulk soups, strews and curries. Most rice takes around fifteen minutes to cook and you must have the water boiling with a good sprinkle of salt in it. The minimum ratio is about twice the cups of water to rice and some more on top again. Three or four times water to rice is even better. Just pop in the rice once its boiling, allow it to reboil, then turn down to a simmer and let it do its thing. A few gentle stirs from beginning to end is fine.
You can take a few grains out at the finish to test if they are soft to the bite but you can trust the timing. Then you need a good large, fine meshed strainer or colander to get rid of the water down the sink. A sieve is fine for a small amount. You do not want sticky rice.
In kitchens we cool down the rice at this stage with cold water and then reheat it as needed, microwaves are good for this. If you are using your rice straight away, then a bit more salt and a knob of butter will do the job. Another easy way is just to wash well and steam it in the pot with just over equal water to rice absorption ratio or in a steamer itself.
A word of warning though, rice can be dangerous if left out for too long or even while in the fridge, so do eat it immediately or within an hour or chill it quickly and get it in a fridge within a couple of hours at most and reheat well but always use within two days. It is susceptible to particularly dangerous bacteria that will grow inside the grains if not looked after properly. Freshly cooked rice freezes well too.
So I wonder where the world would be without this so important foodstuff. Well, a lot hungrier for starters. Let’s hope it continues to be available for the masses as it truly is an essential ingredient for the whole planet.