Being born to a Sri Lankan mother, curry, and by extension, rice, was always big news in our house. Whether we were tucking into ‘yellow rice’ (of the basmati variety, coloured with saffron and sexed up with cardamoms and cloves), or dribbling over ‘kiri bath’ (dreamy, sweet coconut milk rice), the grain was always a fixture on our menus.
However, as a tweenager venturing to friends’ houses for tea, I discovered one of life’s most uncomfortable truths: white people can’t cook rice. It’s a sorry fact, but throughout my life I have witnessed all manner of crimes against rice being committed on British soil.
The worst ways to cook rice
Where do so many go wrong? Well, I’ve noticed that most people come undone in their need to treat rice like pasta; they boil it to oblivion, drain it and then serve it in a soggy, starchy, (frequently al dente) pile. For this reason, the sight of a colander when someone is making rice is enough to make me break into a cold sweat!
When I think of my mother’s rice by contrast, I think of soft, fluffy grains that create a delicate pillow upon which her accompaniments rest – and shine. And there’s never any draining involved, she just puts the rice on the heat and 15 minutes later it’s perfect.
In my eyes, unless you’re making risotto (such as this delicious pumpkin risotto with roasted walnut, red chicory and gorgonzola by Michelin starred chef Paul Merrett) or a wholesome wild rice salad, this is a grain that need never be al dente. And what’s more, I recommend ditching long grain rice wherever possible for the infinitely more refined basmati, especially if you are going to be serving it alongside a fabulous curry such as Josceline Dimbleby’s rich red quail curry. Not only does basmati cook quicker, avoiding that familiar crunchy rice problem, but it also has a lovely, slightly nutty flavour and pleasantly springy texture.
My mother’s foolproof method
It amazes me that in a country that has such a well documented love affair with curry, so many still make rice that is joyless, and using a method that seems to have come from Mrs. Beeton.
So in an effort to save this country from bad rice (and frankly lots of unnecessary faffing), I give you my mum’s foolproof method for perfect rice every time.
It works because of three key actions: rinsing the rice well before cooking it removes some of the starch. Next, the delightful ‘magic finger’ rule ensures you always have the correct ratio of water to rice, while the final act of boiling off the water means you are left with dry, fluffy, ready-to-eat grains. Just call it the holy trinity!
1: Wash the rice
Place the basmati rice in a heavy based saucepan and wash well with your fingertips under cold running water to remove excess starch. Ideally rinse the rice 2-3 times.
2: Use the right amount of water
Now place the tip of your middle finger on the top of the rice. Fill the pan with enough water to reach just above the second joint of your finger (the joint closest your palm). Add salt to taste.
3: Bring to boil, then simmer
Place the saucepan over a high heat; bring to the boil and then simmer on low, covered, for about 15 minutes or until all the water has evaporated and you have fluffy, dry grains. Serve straight away.
Finally, if you’re looking for something delicious to serve alongside your perfect rice, you could do a lot worse than this recipe for grey mullet with mussels by celebrated seafood chef Mitch Tonks. Alternatively, if you are feeling nostalgic about Christmas, check out Phil Vickery's recipe for one pot turkey pilau with coriander. I think the word you’re looking for is ‘yum’?
Also worth your attention:
Recipe: Grey mullet with mussels