Thursday, April 16, 2009
I've been eating a lot of rice since I went gluten-free three years ago. I had always liked rice; we ate lots of it growing up when my mom was going through her "stir-fry" phase. It's really soothing to your digestive tract and low in fat. But it was always something that I never really wanted to cook. It seemed too complicated and easy to screw up, especially brown rice. But then I discovered some short cuts, I'd like to share with you.
Rice steamers rock. When I was just out of college, I lived in a loft in Williamsburg with a roomate named David. He was Chinese and his family owned a Chinese restaurant in Maryland. He had a rice steamer and he used it everyday. He just put the rice in with the appropriate amount of water, plugged it in and 20-30 minutes later, he had perfect rice. It shut off when the rice was done. And if dinner wasn't ready yet, he just kept the steamer plugged in and the rice stayed warm.
I wanted one, but I'm a white boy with entitlement issues so I bought myself a fancy-schmantzy Braun rice steamer thinking that if I liked David's cheapo rice steamer, I'd LOVE my Braun. No. The Braun just didn't satisfy. First off, it was huge. If I made just enough rice for me and a friend, it would burn because it all formed a thin layer on the bottom of the reservoir. It also kept the rice too warm. If you didn't unplug it in time, it would keep cooking. So much for elitist German technology.
Finally, I went to a dollar store and bought a no-frills "Aroma" rice steamer. It was, like, $13 and some change. This was three years ago and I'm still using it almost every day. It's small enough to do 1-2 servings of rice at a time (but could easily make 8-10 servings, if you wanted). Alton Brown, who I adore, hates rice steamers because they are "uni-taskers". In other words, they are only good for one thing and take up space in your appliance graveyard. But for me, this is not like a bread baking machine, a fondue pot, or something else you'd use but once a year. Rice is a staple in my diet so I don't mind buying its own separate appliance. Plus you can do other non-rice-related things with the steamer...according to the instruction booklet...which I haven't really read yet, to be perfectly honest.
So when I'm cooking a meal for just me, I take out my rice steamer, put a half cup of rice inside it, add a cup of water and a pinch of salt, plug it in and forget about it while I make the rest of my meal. (If I'm making brown rice, I double the water.) Sometimes I add some minced sundried tomatoes, some frozen peas and/or some miso or chicken stock for extra flavor. What could be simpler?
But wait, it CAN be simpler. I had this boyfriend named Mario who had many great qualities but had no idea how to cook. He was raised by nannies. My friends and I would make fun of him because he'd say, "I'm going to make a homemade Caesar salad" and this meant that he'd buy some romaine, some bottled Caesar dressing and some Pepperidge Farm croutons and then make me wash the lettuce because he didn't know how.
But then he did this other thing that I thought was really weird at first but I soon began to recognize its simplistic brilliance. When he made "rice and beans", he'd buy steamed rice at a Chinese take out place and use that. It would cost two dollars for a quart of rice, it took them a minute or two for them to give it to you straight from the industrial size steamer they have in the kitchen, it was always perfectly cooked and they even had brown rice.
I realize that Chinese restaurants are enemy territory for Celiacs with all that soy sauce flying around, but the steamed rice is usually kept in a separate steamer and doesn't mix with the other foods. I've never had a problem with it.