Rice and Things
It occurs to me that I’ve posted two recipes here and they’ve both involved slopping food over rice.
I like rice. It doesn’t serve quite the same purpose to me as noodles or potatoes but it does make a fairly light meal like soup or stir fried vegetables seem a lot more filling. Well, there’s that, and it’s cheap — and I’m cheap so it stands to reason that I use a fair amount of rice during the course of the year.
I’m not sure when I decided I had to own a rice cooker but sometime in the last couple of years or so I invested in a fairly cheap one and it has been used as much as any kitchen gadget I’ve ever bought. It’s also ridiculously simple to use. You add some rice, twice that much water (and a little oil or butter) and then you flip the switch to “on”. When it’s done the switch will automatically flip to the “warm” setting. The more I think about it though, the less I like the idea of a rice cooker.
Cooking rice pretty much just involves boiling water, rice, and fifteen or twenty minutes. That’s it. I mean, I like boiled eggs too, but they don’t sell a machine just for that. At least not until I get in touch with the marketing genius who started the bottled water trend. Or the other marketing genius who came up with the idea of selling flavored water in bottles. When I was a kid we called that coffee or tea. Flavored water! Criminy! Although, I’ve found a couple of lime flavored waters that are alright if you splash a little rum in them. Or vice versa.
The one thing I will say about the rice cooker though is that it does make perfect rice every single time. For some reason the first two batches I made formed a kind of skin over the bottom of the pan which was not quite what I had in mind, but I’ve never had that problem again. I do usually fluff the rice and add a couple of tablespoons of water immediately after the switch goes from cook to warm but that’s mostly just because I have to fidget with it. I’m sure it would turn out just fine if I left the damn thing alone, but I just can’t. That’s the difference between “cooking” and “watching.” And there’s nothing sillier than watching rice cook.
Now, there are a couple of other things you can do with the rice cooker. Most of them come with a pan that goes on top so you can steam vegetables or meat while the rice cooks. That comes in handy but you have to be a little careful about what you steam. Shrimp works out okay, but a frozen chicken breast might not reach a safe internal temperature in the time it takes the rice to cook. Chicken gunk is hard to clean off the steamer too, so if I want light healthy chicken with my rice I’ll boil it separately.
Actually pretty much the easiest and tastiest chicken you’ll ever find is boiled with a little onion in about half water and half chardonnay. The other half of chardonnay you drink.
The main thing I have actually steamed to have with my rice is yellow squash and onion with some Italian seasoning sprinkled over it. For a little extra flavor I use chicken broth instead or water when I do that, and sometimes I throw in a little frozen corn to add a little touch of sweetness to it. You know, you’d think eating some steamed vegetables and a measly little handful of rice I couldn’t have gotten this fat. I guess it has something to do with the fact that there are never any leftovers around my house.
Alright, now that I’ve depressed myself, let’s get back to the rice cooker. The other thing it’s good for (for example if you’re all fat and depressed) is making rice pudding, a comfort food if there ever was one. What I’ve found works well is to cook the rice normally (three fourths cup following the manufacturers’ directions) and once it clicks from cook to warm add about a half cup of hot water and let it sit and steam and absorb all that extra water. It’s really okay to just forget about it for an hour or two if you feel like it.
When you come back from your scotch and soda binge, what you’ll want to do is pour in about three fourths of a cup of milk, a good long slug of vanilla extract (two tablespoons at a minimum), one beaten egg, a third cup of sugar, a tablespoon of butter, and a good dusting of cinnamon. Now, you can add raisins if you really like ruining rice pudding, but about the only thing I like to add to rice pudding is maybe just a little bit of dried apple or dried peaches. It’s really more to the point not to add anything, that’s the way us poor folks does it. Once you’ve got all of your ingredients dumped in, stir it around and click the switch back to cook.
This time it is imperative that you do not leave the rice cooker unattended. If you plan ahead it is usually possible to have the bottle of scotch in the immediate vicinity of the rice cooker so this should not be a major inconvenience. The problem of course is that the cook setting is very hot and once the rice starts to puddinate you need to be there to decide for yourself when it’s the right consistency. I like mine fairly thick, some folks like it runny. You just have to be there to stop it on time. It can also wind up pretty well burnt because the cook cycle on the rice cooker is not really calibrated for puddings.
When you decide it’s done unplug the cooker and wait a couple of minutes before you serve it up otherwise the molten pudding will scald you mouth. And if you’ve ever poured scotch over a scalded tongue you’ll understand why this is not a good idea.
Okay that’s it. We’ve covered rice cookers. Move along, nothing to see here, just a man and his pudding.
Edwin E. Smith is a poet, heckuva writer and all around swell guy. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him on the Internet at edwinesmith.com