Friday, 23 January 2009

Friday Nibbles - The Return

It had been a staggeringly, disgustingly, painfully, outrageously and downright scandalously long time since I posted a ‘nibble’ on this fair blog.

I was just getting into a routine as well. Things were settling down and I was building up a steady following of lovely, warm and delightful readers who were kind enough to leave their own thoughts to supplement my own verbal culinary ramblings.

And then it just…g r a d u a l l y s t o p p e d. Sorry about that. My bad.

In 1968 Elvis stunned the world with his comeback special. It was a staggering performance that proved he was an artist of incomparable talent, revitalised his ailing career and guaranteed that he was destined to enter the highest echelons of rock fame. And I plan to do the same. With, erm, rice.

One of the four main cereal crops that form the carbohydrate staple part of the diet for 99 per cent of the world’s population, rice is amazing. Despite the numerous variations of this humble crop there are, in fact, only two species of domesticated rice. All the hundreds of different types from Basmati and Jasmine to Carnaroli and long-grain are just variations of a mere two progenitors.

Archaeological evidence suggests that rice was first domesticated in the Asian sub-continent at some point between 10,500 years BP (before present) and 6,500 year BP and from there spread to other parts of Asia and Africa. The grain didn’t reach Europe until the development of the Spice Route in the fifteenth century CE and finally made its way over to The Americas by the late 1600s thanks to the Slave Trade.

Now over 20% of the world’s population rely on rice to provide the bulk of their diet with the Chinese way out ahead in terms of consumption. They get through about 80 kilos of the stuff per person (per year, obviously. Not all in one go) which is a lot. For comparative purposes, that is about eight times the amount we chew through in Europe or America.

There are now so many varieties of rice (some estimates put the figure at about 100,000) that to talk about them all would be both fool-hardy and dull so perhaps it is best to concentrate on a few key ones that would make an excellent addition to most store-cupboards.

Basmati is a must. Its fragrant, almost floral, flavour completes a curry in the way that nothing else can. Even its smell is unmistakably reminiscent of Indian food in the same way that the aroma of cumin or Garam Masala is. A pan of basmati bubbling away on the hob is sure to make you feel hungry and start hankering for something warming and spiced to go with it.

Moving slightly further east, we come to Jasmine rice, as characteristically Thai as Basmati is Indian. It too has a fragrant deliciousness, not dissimilar to Basmati (thanks to the appearance in both of a compound called 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline). When cooked, Jasmine rice has a slightly stickier texture which makes it useful for soaking up the highly flavoured and aromatic sauces for which Thai food is justifiably famous.

Finally, we come closer to home and touch upon risotto rice. There are three main varieties (Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano), all defined by their ability to soak up vast quantities of liquid without splitting and turning into a soupy, glutinous mass. My personal preference is for Vialone Nano although any of the three will produce an excellent risotto, providing you have some decent stock and about forty minutes to spare for stirring purposes.

I’m fairly sure I’ve made a glaring omission, please let me know if I have. And if you’re good there will be a recipe to follow: roasted beetroot, ginger and dark chocolate risotto. Not as strange as it sounds and pant-wettingly delicious.

Have a great weekend.


Hopie said...

Wow, I can't believe there are just two species of rice. Impressive. What about wild rice? That's good stuff. Although in France it's often imported from the US, so maybe it's native to North America?

Now I will concentrate on being good. Oh, and having an extra pair of pants at the ready!

Alicia Foodycat said...

I am making something with rice crispies this weekend - does that count?

Hungry Gal said...

I have about 10 kinds of rice in my pantry right now - is that an addiction?

dp said...

For as much rice as I eat, I can't make a proper risotto to save my life. I give props to those who can.

I always have Thai jasmine and sticky, Basmati and Japanese-style short (or medium) grain rice in my cupboard. Everything else just takes up space :-)

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

I love basmati. When you start buying this rice, you don't stop. I just found an interesting cookbook on rice. There is so much to learn. Can't wait for the recipe.

Just Cook It said...

Hopie - I know, amazing isn't it? I didn't know about France importing US rice - I'll look into it. Hope I haven't bigged up the recipe too much!

Foodycat - That definitely counts. Is it chocolate covered rice crispies?

Hungry Gal - If it is an addiction it's a very healthy one that I think I could get used to. Wow, ten. What are they?

dp - Perhaps I'll be able to give you some top risotto tips next week. I forgot about sticky rice, and Japanese rice, of course. Can't make sushi without it.

Helene - Basmati is wonderful isn't it? I'll get cracking on the recipe. Thanks!