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I Need to Talk about Rice

Guest Contributor
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I'm obsessed with it. I can't help it – I think about it constantly and I have to make sure I eat it at least once a day. I love the feel of it in my hands as I swoosh it around in water to clean it and the sound of it rustling together and dropping into the bowl.

The smell is an important part of the experience. I have a little rice cooker at home and as soon as the rice begins to heat and the smell fills my kitchen, I feel more relaxed, and my flat feels more like a home.

The Sanskrit word basmati in fact translates as 'the fragrant one', and for good reason – it has an amazing fragrance. Jasmine rice is on another level. Wonderful short grain kernels of rice that have such a beautiful fragrance they are named after the best smelling flower around.

Unlike a lot of foods, rice – particularly basmati – actually improves with age. The very best basmati rice is aged for up to two years. This hardens the grain and intensifies the flavour, resulting in a fluffier, even more fragrant rice.

One of the meals I have most often at home is a take on Korean bibimbap. It's a meal built around a bowl of rice, much like the Japanese donburi. A bowl of rice is topped with various things, kimchee, cucumber salad, spinach, and a little spiced beef. When this is then accompanied by a bowl of miso soup, it's pretty much the perfect simple supper that takes minutes to make.

Throughout Asia, rice is given huge amounts of respect. In Japan there are lots of different words for rice but the word for cooked rice is gohan – the suffix go denotes an almost religious amount of respect. Gohan is also the word used for all food, symbolising the importance of rice as the basis of the Japanese diet.

At my restaurant Dock Kitchen, we cook a lot of rice. Our biryani is now so popular that to take it off the menu would result in a riot, and we take a lot of care to ensure our basmati rice is fluffy and delicious. I rarely make risotto, I think my years at River Café working the pasta/risotto section has put me off forever. However, what I am interested in is pilaf. Pilaf is as versatile as risotto, but is fluffy rather than stodgy. I learned recently that three and a half billion people eat rice everyday, so perhaps I am not alone in my obsession.

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