Perfect Rice Every Time
By Eva P. Bueno
No, this is neither Julia Child nor some other Julia cooking her recipes while having what we can call a life. French cooking — marvelous, complex, delicious — is not for everyone. Too many pans are necessary! Too much butter is used! Too many fancy terms! And so on and so forth.
This is an attempt to recall the simplest recipes that can honestly be cooked by a beginner with a couple of pans, a stove, some cooking oil (sometimes some olive oil), garlic, onions, salt, and some parsley. Once we master one kind of food, we will build on that one to produce more elaborate meals, but first things first. And the first thing we Brazilians say is our staple food is rice. So rice it will be: arroz.
Brazilian Style Rice
First, make sure you have a pan that is more wide than deep. A deep frying pan will do nicely. You need to have the lid for this pan, however.
You will also need:
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of cooking oil (Canola, or any other good cooking oil)
1 cup of rice
In Brazil we usually like to wash the rice by putting it in a deep bowl, filling it with water, swishing it around, draining the water. It is a good idea to use a sieve. Put the rice aside while you smash the garlic. (I use a knife to smash the whole clove, and then remove the paper.) Put the oil in the pan, and the pan on the stove. Medium heat. Put the garlic in the pan, let it become yellow and exude that delicious smell. Put the washed and drained rice in the pan, swish it around, put a half a teaspoon of salt, add two cups of water (hot or cold, it doesn’t matter), and taste. Remember to NEVER put too much salt in anything. You can always add, but it is a bit complicated to remove it.* Swish some more around to make sure all the rice is involved in this operation. Increase the heat.
Watch the pan. When the water starts boiling, reduce the heat to half, cover the pan, and let the rice cook for about 15 minutes, or until the water is all absorbed. Take a little bit of the rice and taste it. Is it too hard? Put a ¼ more of water. Some kinds of rice need more water than others and you, the cook, should remember that the proportion of 1 for rice and 2 of water is the starting point.
Anyway, keep the lid on the pan. As soon as it is cooked, fluff the whole thing with a fork, or with one of those sticks you stole from the Japanese or Chinese restaurant.
Your rice is cooked.
Some people like to add chopped parsley at this point. Some even enjoy chopped cilantro in their rice. Don’t know what cilantro is? Simple: next time you go to the supermarket, ask. It looks very much like parsley, but the smell and the taste is different. Cilantro is also good with other dishes we will discuss on another occasion.
* If you messed up and put too much salt in your rice, quickly peel and cut a potato and add to the rice. The potato will help absorb some of the salt and once the rice is cooked, you can remove the potato pieces. Or eat them too, if you want. They are perfectly good.
Now that you mastered the simple, white rice, let’s see if we can add something to this rice. Here are some options that will not make you sweat in the kitchen:
Rice with Carrots
Prepare your raw rice as described above (wash, drain). Prepare your pan and smash your garlic. But before you put everything to cook, peel 3 carrots and cut them in little cubes.
Put the pan on the stove, medium heat. Put the garlic to do its magic in the hot oil. Put the cubed carrots in the pan, and then the rice. Swish everything together, put a little bit of salt, and now, for every cup of rice, put 2 and ½ cups of water.
Proceed as before.
If you don’t know couve in Brazil, you must do that immediately! It is a very flavorful leaf that will give you tons of anti-oxidants and all that good stuff for your intestinal flora, etc. If you don’t know what it is, ask your supermarket attendant. It is usually sold in tied bunches.
Untie your bunch of couve, and wash each leaf separately under running water. Gather the leaves together, and pretend you are in Cuba, rolling a cigar. The couve bunch will become a big green — and much healthier — cigar. Now hold the big cigar with one hand, put the bunch on a cutting board, and start cutting very thin slices of the bundled up leaves.
Put the oil in the pan, the garlic in the oil, medium heat. Now, put the couve in the pan, and then the rice. For each cup of rice, put 2 and 1/3 cups of water.
Cook as before.
Your rice will be green, pretty delicious, and darn good for you.
As you can see, you can add pretty much any vegetable to your rice, using the same steps. I’ve used pumpkin, broccoli, green beans, snow peas, etc. Little by little, you will figure out that some of these veggies melt if you put them to cook in the very beginning of the cooking process. Adjust to your taste. It is fun to try and, as the old saying goes, “you can always eat your mistakes,” but only if you don’t put too much salt in them, ah.
Next time, we will learn how to make an oyster soup to serve with this rice. Very easy recipe! A beginner can cook it and show off. Unless you want me to teach you a killer recipe for coc-au-vin. What is coc-au-vin? Just a fancy way of saying “chicken cooked with wine.” In this case, I suggest you use the French name, because it will make you sound more sophisticated. Let me know what you prefer. Both are easy, I guarantee.
Eva Bueno is from Paraná and currently lives and teaches in San Antonio, Texas. She occasionally writes books and essays on Latin American and Brazilian literature, popular culture, women writers, politics, and the meaning of life.