from The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking
by Barbara Tropp
According to one of my more reliable reference books, the average Chinese consumes a pound of rice a day (compared to the average American consumption of seven pounds a year). That's a lot of rice!
Certainly it was the kind of consumption I saw all around me during my years in Asia, when several bowls of rice per meal was the habit of young and old, and the giant family rice cooker, the omnipresent rice bowls, and the luxuriant paddies outside my study window were all part of the daily scene. Rice is life in most of China, and its preparation is one of the day's most steady rhythms.
The everyday Chinese rice bowl is filled with plain white rice, half-boiled and half-steamed, unseasoned by salt, oil, or stock. Brown rice is not eaten, not even by the poor, and seasonings are left to the other dishes one eats as an accompaniment to rice. The mainstay, the central part of the meal, has for centuries been the unadorned white bowlful. One Ching dynasty gourmet reportedly sent his maid scurrying to collect the dew from wild roses and cassia blossoms to infuse his rice-the modern equivalent, I suppose, to a squirt of orange flower water being added to the pot-but he was the exception in a tradition of simplicity.
The Chinese have a standard method for cooking rice and, in Asia, a preference for short-grain rice. While short-grain rice is not the American favorite, it is absolutely delicious when cooked properly, and the thickish, slightly creamy grains are eager help mates to spicy or saucy dishes-the ones that go best with rice. The method is simple, a matter of one heavy pot and a half hour of time from start to serving.
The Chinese (and Japanese) habit is to rinse rice repeatedly before cooking. The rice is put in a bowl or pail, covered with a generous amount of cold water, then stirred by hand until the water turns milky from the residue left by the milling process. It is immediately drained, then the process is repeated perhaps 5 or 6 times over the course of 3 or 4 minutes. Regardless of whether or not the rice has been coated in milling, the repeated rinsings over several minutes result in a perceptibly cleaner, lighter, fresher-tasting rice.
The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking
Techniques and Recipes
By Barbara Tropp
Hearst Books, 1982
Reprinted by permission
This page created February 1999
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