Sunday, September 6, 2009

Clay pot rice

OK, one last rice cooker post before I get bored with the thing and go back whatever it is I usually do around here.

This, like the clay pot pork I made a while back, is an adaption to the western kitchen, although, since I'm doing it in a rice cooker, perhaps it's better to say that it's an adaption to modern kitchen. One without a clay pot and a charcoal burner at any rate.

The version I made is something of a bastardization. It's got a pretty strict ingredient list traditionally--garlic, ginger and shiitake mushrooms mixed with the rice, Chinese sausage and chicken marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine layered on top, maybe an egg or salted preserved fish, and a scallion garnish to finish.

I substituted some Chinese bacon for the chicken as the bacon was pre-marinated and I was feeling lazy. I used a different brand than last time and what I got was far leaner and more cured, almost jerky. Not quite what I wanted, but it turned out OK. The chicken would have been better, though.

I also layered on a bunch of different vegetables: water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and baby corn, diced carrot and shredded cabbage, plus sliced tofu. And I added a bit of soy sauce and chili oil to the pot too instead of using them as condiments afterward. And I mixed in some thinly sliced sweet pepper with the scallion and, since I was concerned about overcooking the egg, I added a sliced hard-boiled egg to the garnish instead of steaming one along with everything else.

The only thing left is a cup and three quarters of chicken stock mixed with a cup of rice and the garlic, ginger and reconstituted dried shiitake. That goes in the bottom of the rice cooker. Everything else, bar the garnishes, goes on top. Turn on the cooker and come back at dinner time.

There are a few things to note here. First is the extra liquid added to the rice creates extra steam to properly cook the ingredients on top. Second, the fact that they're on top is not just so they can steam, but so the fat and juices can drip down to flavor the rice. The sauces I added really weren't necessary.

Third is a matter of technique that I'll admit I didn't fully appreciate until after I cooked this. There's some tension between wanting to cook the rice slowly to ensure full and flavorful doneness and cooking it at a high temperature to form the crust that's an important aspect of this dish. In a clay pot, it seems, you can do both. In a rice cooker you can't, at least one not in one like mine that is smart enough to think it knows the right thing to do and insists on doing it even when you're trying to do something else. If you've used Microsoft Word, you know what I mean.

That crust is what makes this a respectable sibling of fried rice and sticky rice dishes. Without its added flavor and texture, the dish is fine but dull. And, as you can, see, my version has no crust.



So, how to fix this? Looking around after the fact I see some recipes calling for the rice to have an hour pre-soak. Other add the toppings ten minutes into the rice cooking. You might not have this problem if you try it. My old rice cooker, with its hot "keep warm" setting would have formed a crust on the rice by just waiting ten minutes before dishing it out. Possibly, the fast cycle on my cooker would have done the same thing. I'll have to try it later. I've been talking about rice crust a fair bit this last week and I'm starting to crave it pretty badly at this point. Plus, it'll make a fine blog post.

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