I Burned the Rice

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I often burn the rice.

Burned rice

It’s an unfortunate habit I have. Here’s how it usually goes down:

I’m making sushi rice. My sushi rice preparation technique, adapted from a recipe by Nobu Matsuhisa, involves bringing the rice to a boil, cooking it for five minutes at a regular temperature, then blasting it even more briefly with high heat, and then turning it off and letting it steam for 15 minutes. Where I go astray is usually in the last step, where I turn the heat on high, and instead of waiting the minute it’s supposed to take, wander off to do something else. (For example, the idea for this post came as I was working on another post when I suddenly smelled the rice burning.)

The good news is, I do usually smell it burning before the whole thing is a write-off.

One of my best food memories as a child was ordering three-flavor sizzling rice soup at the nearby Twin Dragon Chinese restaurant. The waiter would come to the table with the steaming pot of soup, the scent of shrimp and abalone almost intoxicating, and drop in the hot, puffed fried rice, which would sizzle like live electricity, before scooping it into individual bowls.

I used to purchase squares of dried rice at the Chinese market to make my own sizzling rice soup at home. And then one day, I burned the rice and had an “aha” moment.

Facing my pot of burned rice, if I have not let it go too long, I am usually able to scoop out the unburned rice from the center and sides — which, other than a distinct smokiness which is not altogether unpleasant, is perfectly cooked — and am left with a crisped, browned crust along the sides and bottom that typically lifts out neatly in a few large pieces. And then it is just me, the blackened pan and the steel wool.

Oven-dried rice crust chunks

While I am building arm muscle mass trying to salvage my burned pan, I place the crusted rice pieces in the oven at a low temperature — say 160-180 degrees — and let them dry out completely. They can then be kept in a plastic bag in the cupboard for months, ready to be dropped into hot oil and puffed at a whim! (And who hasn’t experienced that kind of a whim from time to time?)

So what do I do with my puffed rice nuggets besides sizzling rice soup?

If I’m feeling in an Italian mood, I’ll make my crispy shrimp risotto fake-out, a kind of reverse risotto using puffed crisp rice with sauced, sautéed shrimp. I’ve done a nice ahi ceviche with caramelized onion salsa, served on puffed rice. One of my favorite go-tos for a party appetizer is puffed rice with spicy tuna and micro greens. And just recently, I caramelized the rice in the style of Thai mee krob noodles, and served it with a poached shrimp and scallion salad (recipe below).

Thai shrimp with crispy mee krob rice

If you use a rice cooker or prefer to not burn your rice (a good habit), you can always purchase the rice squares at the Chinese market. Or here’s how to make the squares at home with regular cooked (unburned) rice.

Enjoy!

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Thai shrimp with crispy mee krob rice
serves 4

8 large shrimp, cleaned, de-shelled and butterflied
4 green onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 tbsp. chopped peanuts
1/4 cup finely julienned carrots
1 tbsp. chiffonaded basil
2 tbsp. Thai fish sauce
4 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. ketchup
4 large pieces dried cooked rice (or rice squares)
1 cup vegetable oil

Mix together 1 tbsp. fish sauce, 2 tbsp. sugar and 2 tbsp. lime juice until incorporated. Toss together onions, carrots and basil.

In a saucepan, heat 1 cup water over high heat until it begins to boil. Add shrimp, turn off heat and cover. Let shrimp steam for 2 minutes, then remove from water and set aside.

Heat oil in a wok or saucepan over medium high until a grain of your dried rice sizzles and puffs in the oil. Drop the rice chunks into the oil, a few at a time, and fry, turning once or twice, until puffed and crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain.

Heat remaining fish sauce, sugar and lime juice in a pan over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Stir in ketchup, and cook until it is thick and glazy. Toss in your puffed rice pieces, and flip in the pan to coat with the sauce. Once rice is thoroughly coated, remove from heat and set aside.

Toss green onion salad with the lime/fish sauce dressing.

To plate: place a piece of the puffed rice (or if it has broken up, a couple pieces) on each of four plates. Top each with a steamed shrimp, and a quarter of the green onion salad. Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the top and serve.

The Japanese Make the Best Things

Sometimes I think the Italians make the best things. And then I change my mind, and decide it’s actually the Mexicans who make the best things. Other times, I’m pretty darned sure it’s the Japanese.

This is one of those times.

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Of course, it all depends on what you are talking about. If you’re discussing cheese, for example, it’s hard to make a case that anyone does it better than the French. More

Shortcuts

I’m one of those fancy chefs who serves small portions, treats the plate like a canvas and uses flowers and ingredients you’ve never heard of. But I’m also a fan of shortcuts.

Many of the world’s best chefs will readily admit to resorting to shortcuts when they’re cooking.

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While we were staying at the Casa Tres Coronitas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last October, I asked the house chef, Marilu, to show me how to make her famous salsa. She was giving me a lesson and it was nothing out of the ordinary — tomatillos, onion, garlic, chiles de arbol, salt. And then she reached into the cupboard to pull out her “secret ingredient” — Knorr powdered chicken bouillon. Sure enough, when I tried it at home (with the bag of Knorr powdered chicken bouillon Marilu picked up for me at the supermercado), it contributed a salty umami depth that was missing before I added it. Couldn’t have been the MSG, could it?? More

Brody’s Big Adventure

My pal, Richard Brody, picked me up on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Bentley Avenue at 11:07 a.m. on a Monday morning. We were going shopping.

Brody and his ramen

Brody and his ramen

What I was doing on that particular corner without a car is a whole other story of broken struts, the Culver City green line and a client of my other, more lucrative life. But it is what Brody and I were doing that is of interest for this blog, as it has everything to do with food. More

Good Gadget, Bad Gadget — The Annual Summer Post, 2014 Edition

Around about this time each year, I get emails from the likes of Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table touting their wonderful selection of summer grilling “must haves” at up to 50% off. Last year an email from Sur la Table even included the recommendations of “Jenn the Gadget Girl,” whom I tried in vain to prove or disprove the actual existence of.

The emails always seem to arrive when I’m scratching my head about what to blog about, and in that way are like a gift. And this year, they did not disappoint.

Adding to my already formidable collection of “Good Gadget, Bad Gadget” posts is this summer’s grill edition, which as usual is heavy on the “bad gadget” side… It’s hard to believe that in a product lab somewhere on earth, people are actually dreaming these things up. More

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