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.

Magnificent Moo Shu

When I was a kid, my family used to go to the Twin Dragon restaurant — a mere mile from my home, it was the best gig in town, shy of driving all the way to Chinatown which we did on the weekends sometimes for dim sum.

Moo shu with support act, Mandarin chicken

Moo shu with support act, Mandarin tangerine chicken

By today’s Chinese restaurant standards of Szechuan vs. Cantonese vs. Fujian vs. Shandong, etc., Twin Dragon was pretty old school — sweet & sour pork, wor wonton soup, pressed duck. But back then, when most Chinese joints were serving chop suey and egg foo young, it was pretty special. They made a mean spicy kung pao chicken with whole blackened chilies, a rocking tangerine chicken with bits of chewy peel, a sublime three-flavor sizzling rice soup, as well as some unique specialties — I recall the chicken with pine nuts standing out, and remember my parents once ordering a big plate of jiggly jellyfish which they tried without success to get the kids to eat. More