It’s a universal dish, shared by so many countries in the world, made on street corners by vendors, cooked in restaurants and in the homes of so many. No wonder the simple rice dish has come to have so many variations from different cultures.
The way many people prepare it at home is as plain white rice, which takes less than 10 minutes to cook as a side to any main dish. However, with a creative head and a little bit of experimentation, we can jazz up the simple rice dish with powerful and fragrant punchiness of spices.
So how do you make the perfect rice?
There are so many different ways to cook rice – steaming, boiling, even baking – but I mainly stick to a few guidelines.
Firstly, I use basmati white rice, which can be bought in almost every supermarket now. I find the grains consistently produce a great taste and fluffiness when cooked.
I wash my rice grains in cold water a few times to get rid of the extra starchiness, because nobody wants soggy rice.
I boil my rice with water in a deep saucepan with a tight-fitting lid to keep the steam in – don’t forget to add some salt for seasoning.
Look for holes or indents, which will appear after about 8 or 9 minutes of cooking. This will show you the water is nearly finished and your rice is nearly ready.
Fluff up with a fork and drain in a colander if there is excess water.
Jamie’s demonstration on Food Tube of how to make simple rice – and a few great variations – is worth a watch. He opts for one mug of rice to two mugs water, a method guaranteed to make fluffy rice in 9 minutes or under. Using this basic formula you can then add flavourings such as fresh herbs, a cinnamon stick, a few cardamom pods or a strip of lemon zest, as Jamie suggests!
As it happens, I recently tried out Jamie’s Lemon rice, which has an undeniable flavour kick and is very moreish, with a fried mixture of crunchy urad dhal (split peas), mustard seeds, curry leaves and lemon peel that had developed a fried golden sheen and add a lovely fresh tang to the mix. This is then added to freshly cooked, steaming-hot white basmati rice.
So what’s your favourite way of eating it?
People cook rice in many ways, often depending on their cultural backgrounds. We have biryanis and pilafs originating from Asia, kedgeree from Victorian England, risotto from Italy – the list is long and can be very inspiring to the home cook.
I pretty much grew up on rice dishes; I’m sure my mother fed me lentils and rice when I was a baby because I refused typical baby food, and growing up we would always have rice with chicken, meat, or fish.
One of my favourites is the Bol Devire, which translates as “the upside-down bowl” – an easy Chinese-Mauritian dish that is quite theatrical in the revealing of the dish at the end of cooking.
Bol Devire consists of with a layer of fried eggs in a bowl and a filling of chicken or pork cooked in a wok with oyster sauce, soya sauce, mushrooms or stir-fried vegetables, topped with fluffy basmati rice, patted down. The bowl is inverted onto a plate and uncovered to reveal a one-bowl dish – spectacular!
This is traditionally accompanied with garlic water or chilli sauce, which work wonders sprinkled over the dish before you tuck in. Here is the recipe; it takes under 20 minutes to cook and is a great way to experiment more with rice dishes.
Bol devire recipe
Serves 4 people
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 1 medium-sized onion, finely sliced
- 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely sliced
- 2 chicken breasts or thighs (deboned) cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 tbsp light soya sauce
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 60g mangetout
- 8 mushrooms, sliced
- 2 spring onion, finely chopped
- 4 eggs, medium sized
2 cups of hot cooked basmati rice (adding in 1/2 cup frozen peas, sweetcorn, carrot mixture in at the beginning of cooking)
For the garlic water
- 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
- 50ml hot water
- 100ml water
- 50ml white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp caster sugar
Start by making the garlic water. Mix the hot water and sugar until dissolved, adding in the garlic cloves, water and vinegar then letting it steep together while you cook the Bol Devire.
In a small bowl, mix together the cornflour and 250ml of cold water, stirring well.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok, add the sliced onion, garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute, keeping it moving so it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Add the chicken, give it a stir, then add in the soya sauce, oyster sauce and cornflour water. Let the chicken cook for 4-5 minutes.
Next add the mangetout and mushrooms and let this cook until the vegetables are done, the chicken is cooked and the sauce has thickened. Finish by scattering with spring onions.
In a separate frying pan, heat a little vegetable oil and fry the eggs, one or two at a time for 1-2 minutes until cooked, flipping over carefully halfway.
To serve, place the eggs in the base of 4 bowls, spoon over the chicken and vegetable mixture and top with the rice. Pat it down firmly, place a serving plate on top and flip, turning out so you have a round shape. Sprinkle with the delicious garlic water or chilli sauce, then serve!