Editor’s note: There is a lot of talk about hacking these days. The word actually has a wide range of meanings. In contemporary terms, “to hack” means to gain illegal access to a computer. More informally, “hack”, means a tip, a trick or an efficient way of doing something. Sticking with informal usage, A Taste of Mind will offer an ongoing, but intermittent series of “Hacks”. To make life easier…
We lived in Asia for a total of fifteen years in two separate cycles. First in Singapore for three years, followed by an interim three years in the Mediterranean, followed by twelve years in Taiwan.
Throughout Asia, the daily carbohydrate staple is, obviously, rice.
As a child, I grew up in the American Midwest where our daily carbohydrate was the potato. When my mother tried to spiff up evening meals by serving rice instead, we shunned the whitely tasteless pile of grain. In frustration, she resorted to sprinkling sugar on top. It only made things worse.
Fast forward to adulthood and the move to Singapore where rice and noodles became a regular part of the family diet. So many delicious ways to eat vegetables or bits of meat over a base of rice. Our son and daughter learned the use of chopsticks at tender ages. Three-year-old Lara had her own style. Holding a chopstick in each fist, she painstakingly pinched food between the two ends. With some luck, it eventually got to her mouth.
For me, making rice was always a guessing game–ratios of water to rice, cooking time, lid or no lid, rice cooker or no rice cooker, and so on. Finally, it was our Taiwanese helper, Alon, who showed me that preparing perfect rice required only one thing–an index finger.
The index finger method works for any kind of rice–white, brown, red, black or multi-grain. It works in any size pot. It works whether cooking with gas, electricity or induction. It is the best way to prepare fluffy, un-sticky rice. It is not the way to make a crispy, blackened, bottom layer of rice as some Middle Eastern preparations do.
Perfect rice can be made this simple way at home or in a restaurant, too.
Here’s an example. While hanging out one morning at my friend Laurel’s small Paris restaurant, Treize, she wondered aloud how to cook the rice for the lunch special. I offered to show her the foolproof-wendy-hacking way. When you know the chef/owner and it’s an open kitchen, the answer is “Sure, go ahead!” And that’s how a Charleston girl learned to make perfectly cooked red rice to accompany her southern black beans…
PERFECT RICE HACK
- 1 cooking pot and lid, any size
- rice of choice, optional to rinse first
- Place any amount of rice [rinsed or not] into a cooking pot.
- Add water to cover and stir gently until floating rice grains settle on bottom.
- Gently rest the tip of your index finger on the top layer of rice.
- Continue adding water until water level reaches the line of the first joint.
- Place uncovered pot over high heat. [Sometimes I add a drizzle of olive oil or vegetable bouillon cube for flavor.]
- When water begins to boil, adjust heat to continue the boil at lower setting.
- When there is no bubbling water visible and the surface of the rice shows craters, immediately turn heat to lowest setting and cover with a lid.
- Set timer for exactly 5 minutes.
- Turn off heat when timer buzzes.
And there you go. No fussy measurements. Just a finger joint level of cooking water. And a timer. Rice is ready immediately or will stay warm under cover until ready to serve.
For small amounts of rice, the cooking is very fast, only a few minutes. For larger amounts with more water to boil away, keep an eye on it until it’s time for the final five minutes.
For heavier rice grains like black, red or multigrain, I measure water to just above the line of my index joint. Somehow it always seems to work.
TORTA DI RISO
Because I don’t measure rice there is usually enough for another meal. What to do with it? Well, there is always eggs-on-rice [see link for recipe: Comfort Food for Cal] or ginger fried rice. Recently, I have a new favorite recipe for leftover rice. It’s an Italian dish called Torta di Riso. Credit given to Sasha Martin from her memoir Life from Scratch.
- 6 slices bacon, chopped [can be omitted]
- 1 T. olive oil, plus more for baking dish
- 1 chopped onion
- 3 C. leftover cooked rice [any kind]
- 6 eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ C. grated parmesan cheese [or more]
- ¼ C. chopped parsley [or more]
- Red pepper flakes [my personal addition]
- Sauté bacon in olive oil until fat begins to render. Add onion. Sauté until it turns light brown. Set aside.
- In large bowl, place rice, cheese, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper.
- Stir in slightly cooled onion mixture.
- Pour into lightly oiled 8×8 inch casserole.
- Bake 400 F. or 205 C. for 35 minutes or until golden brown on top.
- Cool 15 minutes.
- Cut into squares or diamonds.
- Serve room temperature or cold.
Torta di Riso is a nourishing finger food snack. It’s great for picnics or hikes.