Of all the plants in all the world, rice is the most inextricably tied to the human experience. Billions of people keep living every day primarily because of this unassuming little grain, and countless billions past relied even more heavily on its life-giving carbohydrates. Rice paddies cut into mountainsides mirror the people that grow them, tenacious and ordered despite their hostile environment. If the human body is 70 percent water, then I would guess that the other 30 is rice.
In the face of these overblown analogs, the way we eat rice as American college kids seems a little bland: A pile of white grains, some water and a sauce pot; then a few beans or a little stir-fry to fill the sticky canvass. Don’t get me wrong —the ease of this preparation style is sometimes necessary in our quickling lives. However, given the time and inclination to cook rice can take on a million characteristics and add more than a few of its own. Rice can transcend its background role.
Join the College Chef on a journey across time and space, exploring the ways that different nations bring rice out from under the entrée.
Basic Rice Technique
Just so you have it somewhere, the best way to make rice on the stovetop.
Pour uncooked rice into the bottom of a stockpot in any amount (remembering that it will approximately double in volume once cooked) and fill with water until it exceeds the level of the rice by about an inch. An easy way to visualize this is by placing a forefinger into the water, resting on top of the rice: the water should come up to the bottom of your first knuckle. Turn the heat to high, and bring the water to a boil. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down as low as it will go, add a pinch of salt, cover the rice, and let cook for 20 minutes or so until the water is absorbed and the rice is consistent to your liking. Add butter if desired, and either serve or add to something like …
Sam’s Thai Sticky Rice
A ridiculously simple recipe that tastes great under any variation.
2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tsp oil
1 ½ tablespoons Sweet Chili Sauce
1 ½ tsp vinegar/lime juice
Any fresh veggies
Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a mixing bowl, and add the peanut butter, stirring rapidly until smoothed out into a slop by the oil. Add the Sweet Chili sauce (a standard around the Pacific Rim, this Thai-style sauce is used a lot like ketchup in other countries — though it’s infinitely tastier. Find it at Rainbow or other big grocery stores in the Asian food aisle) and stir through, then do the same with the vinegar/lime juice. Add just a pinch of salt and a fair amount of pepper. Finally, throw in the rice and whatever veggies you have (from peppers to tomatoes to beans to spinach to carrots to chicory to marshmallows to…) and stir until well incorporated into the sauce. Enjoy!
The best way to get rid of leftovers that I’ve ever met.
1 cup leftover rice
2 tablespoons olive/neutral oil
½ bell pepper, diced
½ onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 square inch ginger, minced
1 ½ tsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
This is the best way to use leftover rice from either takeout or your own too-large eyes. In fact, fresh rice won’t really make a good fried rice, as the kernels are too wet and sticky and won’t separate. So save your extra rice!
Heat the oil on medium-high in a skillet, then add the onion and peppers and cook until soft. Transfer to a different plate/bowl for the time being, then toss in the garlic and ginger, cooking for just a few seconds. When they start to become just a little fragrant add the rice, breaking it up with your hands as you toss it in to separate out the kernels. Cook for a minute, stirring constantly to coat rice in oil and spices. Push the rice to one side and crack the egg in, scrambling on bare skillet surface. Once it is fairly well cooked, incorporate it into the rice. Toss the veggies back in, cook for a minute, then add the soy sauce and sesame oil, stir in and serve!
Nearly any vegetable on earth can be added to the fried rice, as long as it is properly cooked before addition. Try carrots, celery, snow peas, bean sprouts, wax beans, or even potato cubes. Some shredded lettuce or cabbage is great thrown in just before service, and fresh herbs like basil or cilantro work similarly. Add tofu, chicken strips, pork strips, sietan, or ground beef for protein (all sautéed to cook through prior). Add a spice mix with the garlic ginger for a different type of flavor (such as a masala or a little paprika)
Simple Oven Risotto
An Italian take on rice, sticky and rich enough for a centerpiece.
1 cup uncooked rice (preferably short-grain, like Arborio)
½ onion, diced
¼ cup wine
¾ cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 ½ tablespoon butter
½ cup grate parmesan
Start oven preheating to 425 degrees. In an all-metal (ovenproof) saucepan heat a small pool of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes until it just begins to soften. Add the rice and coat in oil and onion, cooking for a minute until glassy.
Pour in the wine and stir until completely evaporated. Stir in the stock, 1 ½ cups water, a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. Turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and bake for 30 minutes until the liquid is mostly gone.
Finally, remove the pot from the oven (careful, she’s hot!), stir in a scant ½ cup of water with the butter and cheese and enjoy!
For a jankedy but fun version of the same thing, try this hyper-easy risotto:
Pour ½ cup of milk and a tablespoon of butter into a sauce pan, and heat on medium low for until hot but not boiling. Add ½ cup of grated cheese, and stir until smooth, melted and mixed through. Add cooked rice, salt, and pepper, and stir until creamy and incorporated. Serve!
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