On a recent trip to Anchorage, I tried coconut rice for the first time. Tender, creamy, coconuty but in an elusive sort of way. Don’t know why I came so late to THAT table. I had to go to Alaska to taste coconut rice???
Next stop in my what-to-blog-about brain: My love affair with rice.
My southern uncle Buford doesn’t think he’s eaten unless there is white bread on the table. He calls food “groceries.” As in, heading for the kitchen, “Gotta get me some groceries.” And to him, bread is THE grocery.
To me, it’s rice. If I had to pick a single carb for life, it would be rice. We brought some excellent bottled smoked salmon back from Anchorage and all I really want to do with it is flake it on top of some hot cooked rice. No need anything else!
I like bread but not just any bread. I really only care for crusty, gutsy country-style loaves with some grainy bite-back and yeasty sweet-sourness. Oh, and at the other end of the spectrum: fresh, hot, yeasty, buttery, moist dinner rolls (Portuguese-style bolinghas or old-fashioned Parker House rolls).
But I like pretty much any kind of rice — EXCEPT (and I’ve ranted about this before) local-style rice that’s been refrigerated and microwaved. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work. I am pretty rigid about not wasting food but I frequently throw away leftover rice. I’ll gladly eat second-day rice if it’s been held at room temperature. But refrigerate or freeze it and you’ve lost me. That glaze of creamy starch is gone and I go with it.
As to bread, too much of what’s available is just blah. And I hate wasting a carb; if I’m going to eat something that threatens to pad my paunch, I want it count! I want to revel in it.
Always amused me that many Mainlanders find rice blah. And get into such a terrific tizzy when they have to cook it. I could never see the mystery: Water and rice. Boil. Cover. Low heat. Go away. Twenty minutes later, rice. Thank you.
Rice is so multi-faceted. For many years, I admit that, for me, rice meant one thing: short- or medium-grain white rice cooked Japanese style: rinsed, steamed, no salt. Eaten hot and fresh. Preferably under something involving by gravy. Or some shoyu thing.
Now I enjoy all manner of rice. Every discovery has been a joy. Thai-style sticky rice with hibscus threads. Filipino-style steamed half-mochi rice (half sweet rice and half medium grain). Brown rice cooked in a pressure cooker (it’s perfect, and takes half the time). The aforementioned coconut rice (made with coconut milk in place of half the water, sometimes with fresh or dried coconut stirred in, sometimes with the rice first sauteed in coconut oil with a little garlic, then cooked with the coconut milk). Meshi (Japanese pilaf; rice steamed with bits of good things — red beans, chicken and vegetables, fish and ginger, peas or edamame). Kusherie (Egyptian rice and lentils). French red rice (from the Camargue). Green rice (rice steamed with minced cilantro and garlic, or sometimes cilantro, spinach and garlic. Green rice II (rice with minced flat-leaf parsley). Thai black rice. Jasmine rice. Cajun dirty rice. Risotto and risotto cakes. Room-temperature rice salads. Hell, I even kinda like Rice-A-Roni (especially in that old recipe where you mix it with marinated artichoke hearts).
As a food critic, I used to joke about how often I left a restaurant “singing the side dish.” The other day I had rice so good that I want to go back to the restaurant just to get some and to try to negotiate the considerable language barrier — the place is Chinese, well, Chinese-Italian — to persuade them to tell me what kind of rice they use and how they make it. (Of course, it would help if I could remember where that was. Somewhere Chinese. In Honolulu. Shucks.)
I GOT IT! Anytime Cafe in Market City. I had the Hainan Chicken Rice (because why? because of the word rice in the menu title, and some positive Yelp reports about this version of a popular Chinese street food dish). It proved to be similar to cold ginger chicken: poached, bone-in chicken pieces, but with dipping sauces on the side instead of ginger marinade all over it, and with the delicious, softly tender rice on the side. The rice had obviously been cooked in some kind of broth; the flavor was subtle but so inviting to me.
When my friend Joan Namkoong published her cookbook, “Go Home. Cook Rice,” I was jealous of the clever title. Story of my life.