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For science!

Brown rice. Let’s talk about it.

Pause for brief meander down a tangent: my Mumini tried to get us kidinis to eat brown rice, wholegrain pasta and brown bread when we were growing up and nearly caused a coup. Universal face-pulling followed by a demands for another round of deep-fried sugar and tomato sauce sandwiches.  Now I’m dashing to the phone to say things like “Mumini, you’re not going to believe this: brown rice! Can you believe what they can do nowadays?”

Rice always seems to me to be a bit of a background food, bringing nothing more to the party than somewhere to put your sauce. But then along came brown rice — conversion! The archangel of grains descended unto me, naked and tender, gave me a light spanking and revealed to me the wonder of brown rice. It’s chewier, more flavoursome, and an entirely different experience to plain white rice. I’m hooked.

But then, after the archangel had gone on his or her way, doubts crept in. After the initial conversion experience, a friend who had bought some brown rice in bulk (i.e. by the cubic metre) shared his bounty with us and we had a few dud batches — I began to grow suspicious of the bulk rice supply source. We had two batches of rice from different sources; the first had yielded holy success, the second annoyance and crunchy crankypants; there was a problem here. Not wanting to imperil our friendship with accusations of offloading dud rice, I knew I had to come up with empirical evidence regarding which rice source was superior. I had to do science!

A lot of Internet folks agree that the One True Way of cooking rice is the absorption method: however, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus on what the absorption method is. Some recipes say wash the rice first, some say wash and soak, some say add the rice to cold water, others to boiling, some say turn the rice down low and then move interstate — there seems to be a lot of variation covered by the absorption method. The one point upon which they all agree is don’t stir the rice. So I guess that’s the absorption method: not stirring (can you name a method after the absence of something?). Once it’s in, leave the lid on, don’t stir it, don’t check it, just get the hell away from it, trust it and all will be well.  It’s kind of intimidating, but I assume it’s because the archangel of grains is in there, working his or her magic. Massaging each individual grain into fulfilment.

So I read a whole bunch of recipes, rejected nearly all of them, and then kind of averaged them out in my head to the following:
– rinse 1/2 cup of raw rice.
– bring 3/4 cup of water to a rolling boil — and none of your pissant bibbly-bubbling, either: full ROLLING boil like the rage of Titans!
– add the washed rice and bring the water to the boil again (since the rice will have briefly soothed the water away from rolling boil).
– turn the heat down really low — use a heat diffuser under the saucepan and get it really chilled out.
– go away. Go far, far away for a while. Go and do something entirely non-rice focused. Paint the dog or have sex in the neighbour’s hammock or something. For brown rice, we’re talking 40 minutes.
– come back, turn the heat under the rice off and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Now, only now, can you open the saucepan. You’ve passed through the purifying agony of impatience and are ready.

The first batch I did, I used the suspicious-rice. The rice that, twice now, had caused us heartbreak when all the promises made by memories of delicious nutty rice had come to nothing. Turns out our friend, the one who gave us the suspicious-rice, had also had some duds, so there was more evidence in favour of my “crappy batch/unreliable retailer” theorem.

Behold the horror that awaited me when I lifted the lid:

Experimental Portion A

Yup. That right there is a saucepan of rice. Completely cooked through, fluffy, flawless, delicious. Huh. Turns out it isn’t a dud batch of grains after all: the occasions upon which it disappointed were, it transpires, nothing to do with the grains. So I repeated the procedure on the trustworthy-rice and regretted having given each batch such judgmental titles.

Experimental Portion B

Yup.  Identical results. Completely cooked through, fluffy, flawless, delicious. Side by side:

The shocking conclusion!

Spot the subtle variations between the two? Nope, neither can I.  I can say with complete confidence that the one on the right is the first batch (i.e. the suspicious-rice) and the pile on the left is the second batch (i.e. the trustworthy-rice). But as to taste, texture, smell, fluffiness — they are interchangeable. I am ashamed of having doubted the first batch. (I had some flowers delivered to the pantry, we’ll be fine.)


1. The absorption method does indeed yield flawlessly fluffy rice — but I think you have to cook brown rice way longer than you expect.  Simmering for 40 minutes is a fair while if you’re the kind of person who normally does the rice last because you assume it’s a quick, final thing.  Also, I’d like to know who circulated that dirty rumour? People treat cooking rice (and pasta) as if it’s some zippity-quick thing that you should do only when everything else is poised and ready to leap onto the plates: my experience is inevitably that everyone sits around for at least an hour waiting for the ginormous pot of water to boil and then for the rice or pasta to get its sweet arse cooked. No sir. I say get that water boiling before anything else and have the rice or pasta cooking while you do the rest.

2. I don’t think I really had a second conclusion. Or if I did, it got blasted out of my head by my tangential rant about why people think rice and pasta are quick to cook. I’m going to hunt down whoever said that you should do the rice and pasta last. And then I’m going to poke them in the eye with an undercooked macaroni: one poke for every time I’ve had to delay my dinner and apologise to the waiting starving. Which will be a lotta pokes.

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