There are few foods that have become so universal to every cuisine as rice. It is rare enough to find someone who won’t eat at least one type of rice — whether it is simple long-grain white rice or creamy sticky arborio or sushi rice, there is a variety for everyone and for all occasions.
Growing up neither of us ever ate that much rice and when we did it was just boiled long-grain rice served on the side with a curry or stir-fry — straightforward, reliable and a little boring, rice never really captured our imagination. It was only when we started to experience amazing Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Thai food in the wave of an expanding and diverse restaurant scene that rice started to become properly appreciated.
In these cultures, rice is such an essential element of their food heritage. It is more than just the starch or the carbohydrate, the side element that fills bellies.
On its own, a steaming bowl of simple rice, seasoned lightly, can be in itself transcendent. It can be a blank canvas, of course, but more than that it is full of potential as a jumping-off point for creativity. Rice amplifies and carries other flavours, allowing them to linger on the palate longer.
Everyone should have a few bags of rice in their store cupboards. We always have a couple of bags of rice at hand as a key staple ingredient. Basmati, brown, arborio and lovely sticky Japanese rice are our usual go-to and they serve most purposes when it comes to cooking.
Varieties like black rice, wild rice, pudding rice, jasmine, carnaroli, bomba, glutinous, camargue are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the unique and amazing varieties, each with their own attributes.
Tearing our minds away from the exotic and tantalising food cultures which use rice as their ultimate staple, we wanted to start this week’s batch of recipes with something a little closer to home.
If we could claim any rice dish as being a little bit Irish it might just be the comforting, unctuous rice pudding. We also explore the notion of rice as a breakfast food and finish with a simple — and also quite Irish — cabbage and rice broth.
Melting salty butter and sizzling it in a hot pan until it turns brown and nutty elevates this rice pudding into something truly special. It is a simple intervention but one that when you try it once, you will never again do without. Rice pudding is purecomfort food and absolutely necessary given the relentless battering of storms we have had recently. Batten down the hatches and make this delicious rice pudding.
Put the butter in a small saucepan over a medium high heat and melt until it goes past the foaming stage and starts to turn brown. Stir gently with a wooden spoon until it starts to smell nice and toasty but careful not to let it burn. Add the sugar and stir to combine.
Cook for a further five minutes or so,whisking vigorously until you end up with a smooth brown caramel.
Take off the heat and pour in a good splash of the milk, stirring to combine.
Return to the heat and add the rest of the milk along with the split vanilla pod and small pinch of sea salt.
At this stage, add the rice, turn the heat up and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for around 25 minutes, stirring regularly to make sure none of the grains of rice stick to the bottom of the pan.
You can remove the vanilla bean before the rice is fully done and discard.
When cooked the rice should be nice and tender but not totally mushy. Leave to cool slightly before serving in bowls with the creme fraiche dolloped on top.
Rice as a breakfast food is relatively unheard of here in Ireland — unimaginable even to some people — but in quite a lot of places, rice is an essential breakfast ingredient.
This dish hopefully serves as a nice and simple introduction to the possibilities of rice in the morning. It has elements of the familiar with pancetta and fried eggs and the brown rice is perfect for giving you essential nutrients and energy when you have a busy day ahead of you.
Cook the pancetta in a large frying pan over a medium high heat until crispy and nicely browned. Remove and set aside, leaving any of the melted fat in the pan.
Leave the pan on the heat and add the sliced spring onions and cook for a minute or two before adding the cooked rice,moving it around the pan, breaking up any clumps.
Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, toasted sesame seeds, and red chilli flakes and stir through the rice. You can also add back in the pancetta at this stage.
Fry the eggs in a little oil and butter,seasoning well with sea salt and black pepper. We like ours quite runny but feel free to cook them however you like them.
Place the fried rice mix into two medium serving bowls and top with the fried eggs and garnish with parsley or coriander.
This is simple comfort food through and through.
We like to make this with arborio rice or alternatively orzo also works very well. Make sure you use a good vegetable or chicken broth.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium high and add the onion, cooking for around 10 minutes, stirring constantly until the onion is deep gold in colour. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes before adding the cabbage (in batches if you need).
When the cabbage has all wilted down, season well with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and add the cider vinegar. Stir the ingredients around in the pan and lower the heat.
You can cover the pan and leave it to cook on a very low heat for around 30 to 40 minutes until very tender. Add a little water if the liquid in the pan evaporates too much.
Bring the vegetable broth to the boil in a medium pot and add the rice. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer uncovered for around 20 minutes until the rice is done. Add the cabbage mixture to the hot rice and broth mixture and stir everything together well.
Taste for seasoning and then serve in soup bowls with the grated cheese on top.
Coopers Sparkling Ale, 375ml;5.8% ABV — €2.25
Stockists: Widely available: Bradleys, Worldwide Wines, Martins, Mitchell & Son, Molloys, Drinkstore, Castle Tralee
Coopers Brewery was established in the mid-19th-century in Adelaide and is still owned by the Cooper family. I first encountered this beer at Australian wine fairs — a bottle of chilled Coopers is exactly what you want after a day’s wine tasting or after working in a winery all day. Made with top-fermenting yeasts, hazy gold in colour with fruity malt aromas and a touch of spice, crisp and fresh on the palate with noticeable hop complexity, a dry malty finish and a lingering kick of hop bitterness.