Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Food Ethnography on a Budget: Cambodia I - Rice

My first excursion into this foodie self-education is an excursion to Cambodia, by way of the Elephant Walk Cookbook. The authors, Katherine Neustadt and Longteine de Monteiro, compose a cookbook that is a primer both on the recipes served at the three Elephant Walk restaurants in the Boston area, and on the cuisine of Cambodia itself. One of the very most important aspects of Cambodian - nay, of Southeast Asian - cooking is rice. You need a lot of it. And the rice of choice in Cambodia is jasmine rice.

I save a whole post just for jasmine rice because jasmine rice and I have sort of a love-hate relationship. I've been able to cook most rice perfectly, particularly basmati rice, which has since become my favorite variety. Jasmine rice, however, always manages to betray me (or I it). If it's not turning out mushy because I tried to cook it in my breadmaker (where my basmati rice always turns out beautifully), then it's turning out hard and crunchy. If it's doing neither, it's burning.

Today I can finally say that I had a perfect pot of jasmine rice. Well, almost perfect. There was still a wee burned blotch on the bottom of my pot, but for the most part the rice was fluffy, not hard and not mushy, and not burned. Again, except for that little blotch.

It's not like the Elephant Walk Cookbook is urging me to do anything different than I normally do. In fact, they urge you to do the same thing that the instructions on the bag urge you to do, more or less:

  • Use about 1 cup rice for every 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup water. The cookbook suggests that you don't need to rinse it over and over, but just once.
  • Put your rice and water in a pot (with or without salt), and boil it uncovered. Here's the catch: don't stir it. I am always in the habit of stirring my rice when I cook it on the stove top. I read this elsewhere. It was good advice.
  • Once it comes to a boil - mine was just barely boiling - turn down the heat to a simmer, cover, again not stirring at all, and cook it for 15 minutes.
  • After this, remove from heat and leave covered and still not stirred for 10 minutes.
Rice Rice Baby. Yes, you did know that was coming, didn't you?

That's what I did to get it to turn out beautifully. I'm saving this for a crispy rice recipe to make tomorrow. Right now, though, I am eating some jasmine rice with oven-roasted broccoli, thin fresh tomato slices and half of a thinly sliced fried shallot.

As for the "budget" part: a bag of jasmine rice can last you for a very long time, especially if you don't just have a rice-based diet. My big-ass bag of basmati rice, for example, cost me $12 but has lasted me well over a year. This bag of Trader Joe's jasmine rice was about $4, and I've gotten some mileage out of it. I would've gotten even more had it turned out all those other times.


marissa said...

Hi! I'm doing some research about salt rising bread in the Baltimore area. I'm trying to find anybody who bakes it or sells it around the city. I was wondering if you could point me in either of these directions?