Cereal grains are the agricultural foundation of every civilization worthy of the name. They have grown as wild grasses since pre-historic times and have been cultivated for the last 7000 years. Rice alone is the staple food for half of humanity.
Ya, . . .but I’m tired of rice, you say, I’ve made so much of the stuff for my family that we’re on our second rice cooker.
Well, the GeezerGourmet decided to do some research, some writing and a cooking demonstration to enhance senior pallets for less familiar cereal grains and to demonstrate some alternative, yet bombproof techniques for their preparation. The grains demo is scheduled this winter at the local community center in McLean, Virginia.
I’ll cover rice pilaf and basmati rice today and, in the weeks to follow, couscous, quinoa, orzo and seasonings that can be added to most if not all of these grains. Pilaf is originally a Persian word, according to Clifford Wright in his wonderful and award winning new book, A Mediterranean Feast. Arabs, Turks and Greeks picked up the method and then sailed it to southern Sicily, from where it migrated to Italy and then, as we all know, to France
I want you to try rice pilaf as both a dish and a method of preparing rice.
The essential pilaf (also called pilau) is:
· The use of long-grain rice
· The practice of browning the rice in butter or oil
· Seasoning the butter or oil
· And in the West, preparing it on the stovetop and finishing it in the oven
My 1961 edition of Larousse Gastronomique says of Riz Pilaf to, Cook lightly in 6 tablespoons of butter, without allowing to color, 1 cup of chopped onion. When it is cooked, add 1 pound of Patna rice. Stir this rice over the heat until all the grains are lightly cooked, then add a quart of broth. Season, cook in the oven, the pot covered, and without disturbing, for 18 to 20 minutes.
Here is a more specific recipe, using less fat. It follows quite closely the school recipe at LAcademie de Cuisine. It’s “bombproof” because, (1) it works for all quantities of rice, and (2) it is a quick, make and forget procedure.
Yield: two servings
See Abbreviations, if needed
1C long grain rice, rinsed (one cup = two generous servings)
½ onion or 2 shallots, finely diced
1.5C chicken stock or chicken broth (note the ratio of rice to liquid, viz., 1:1.5)
1t thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1. Preheat oven to 400F
2. Sauté finely chopped onions in butter to translucent
3. Add cup of rice and coat the grains with the butter
4. Add chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf and S/P. (Dont salt if using canned chicken broth.)
5. Bring to boil
6. Cover tightly
7 Place in oven for 17 minutes (regardless of how much rice youre making)
8. Remove from oven and keep covered and warm until ready to serve
Now about basmati rice: While eating it in restaurants for years, we discovered this rice from East India. Basmati is now the only long grain rice in the pantry. Here’s why. Basmati is an aged, fine textured, un sticky aromatic rice with a sweet delicate flavor and a cream yellow color. It makes great pilaf and casseroles because its wonderful characteristics come through whatever its surroundings.
Basmati is available in Indian, Middle Eastern and Chinese markets and most supermarkets now. Our local Indian spice store carries about eight different labels of Basmati, in 10 pound bags and larger, for 50¢ to $1.30 a pound. Buy a small box of basmati at the supermarket and do the pilaf. Then do the same dish with your tried and true long-grain rice. You’ll like basmati, I guarantee it.