Wednesday 24 April 2019

Rachel Allen: Tasty ways to treat the humble grain

In some parts of the world, rice is almost a religion, says Rachel Allen, who offers tasty ways to treat the humble grain

Rachel Allen photo by Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen photo by Tony Gavin
Baked mushroom risotto

Rachel Allen

The importance of rice to some cultures is almost impossible to overstate. More than one country holds rice as an essential part of their creation myth, fundamental to their very existence - which makes it considerably more exotic than something to boil quickly and eat with a curry!

I love to eat rice in all its different forms. It certainly makes for a quick and easy addition to any sort of curry. Simple boiled rice can be a really fabulous complement to a rich and flavourful curry, especially one with lots of cream or coconut milk.

Even when you're serving rice as a side dish, you can still embellish it with other flavours and textures. A simple rice pilaf can be made by softening onions in butter, adding a few spices such as cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks or even saffron, then adding the rice and cooking it in a light stock. You could serve a rice pilaf with grilled meats or dahl, though I think the rice dish itself is divine.

Though rice originated in China, it has been adopted by so many different food cultures and is a feature in recipes across the world. Risotto, that Italian staple, uses distinctive varieties of short-grained rice. Their starches dissolve into the stock with all that stirring, giving risotto its characteristic creaminess. This risotto recipe uses dried porcini mushrooms (see Rachel Recommends) for a real taste of autumn.

Kedgeree is a dish with its origins in the British Empire. British colonials brought back the rice and spices of a dish they loved in India, then introduced some of their own ingredients such as hard-boiled eggs and smoked haddock. I adore kedgeree, especially for brunch. I've added wild rice to this recipe. Though not traditional, I love the distinctive slightly chewy texture it brings. If you can't find wild rice, you can, of course, use just white or brown rice.

Rachel Allen photo by Tony Gavin


Serves 6-8.

You will need:

150g (5oz) wild rice


350g (12oz) white or brown basmati rice

500g (1lb 2oz) smoked haddock (about 2 medium fillets)

25g (1oz) butter

350ml (12fl oz) milk

Freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

10 eggs, at room temperature

225g (8oz) fresh or frozen peas

2 tablespoons chopped coriander or parsley

2 tablespoons chopped chives

50ml (2fl oz) cream

Tip the wild rice and a pinch of salt into a saucepan of boiling water and cook on a medium heat for about 45 minutes until the rice is cooked, but with a tiny bite still left. Bring another saucepan of water to the boil and add the white or brown basmati rice, whichever you are using, and a pinch of salt, and cook until tender. White basmati rice will take 10-12 minutes to cook and brown basmati rice 25-30 minutes. Drain well and return all of the rice to a single pan to keep warm.

Meanwhile, place the smoked haddock in a wide saucepan and add the butter, the milk and a pinch of the freshly ground black pepper. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes or until the fish is cooked - it will begin to fall apart in chunks. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Place a very large frying pan on a high heat and toast the cumin and the coriander seeds for a few seconds until just a shade darker, then remove the seeds and roughly crush them. (If you don't have a pestle and mortar, tip them onto a board and crush with a rolling pin).

Return the pan to a medium heat and add the olive oil. Tip in the sliced onions and saute for 6-8 minutes. Add the crushed cumin and coriander seeds, along with the cayenne pepper and garam masala. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pan with a lid and continue to cook the onions for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until completely soft.

While the onions are cooking, bring a large pan of water to the boil, gently add the eggs in with a slotted spoon and boil for just six minutes until semi-hard boiled. Drain the eggs and run cold water over them. Peel them once they're cool enough to handle, then cut into quarters.

Tip the fresh or frozen peas, whichever you are using, into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until tender, then drain. The haddock should now be cool enough to handle, so remove from the milk (reserving the milk for later), peel away the skin, remove any bones and flake the fish into chunks of about 1cm (1/2in).

Now you are ready to assemble the dish. Remove the lid covering the onions and, leaving the pan on a low heat, add the drained wild and basmati rice, the peas, and half of each of the chopped coriander or parsley, whichever you are using, and the chopped chives, stirring to mix.

Pour over the cream, along with 50ml (2fl oz) of the milk the fish was cooked in, and gently stir to loosen the whole mixture. Add the flaked haddock pieces, season to taste, and stir gently together.

Transfer the kedgeree to a wide, shallow serving dish and arrange the quartered eggs on top, then sprinkle with the remaining chopped herbs and serve.

Baked mushroom risotto

Baked mushroom risotto

Serves 2-4.

You will need:

50g (2oz) dried porcini mushrooms

400ml (14fl oz) boiling water

800ml (1pt 9fl oz) good-quality chicken or vegetable stock

50g (2oz) butter

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

400g (14oz) risotto rice, such as carnaroli or arborio

200ml (7fl oz) white wine

8 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving

100g (3oz) butter, soft, cut into cubes

4 tablespoons marjoram or parsley, chopped

Good squeeze of lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons mascarpone (optional)

In a heatproof bowl, combine the dried porcini mushrooms and boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes or until soft.

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 3. Place the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you are using, in a saucepan over a medium-low heat and bring to just under a simmer.

Add the butter to a large saucepan or casserole dish with a lid, and place on a medium heat. Add the chopped onion and the chopped garlic and cook for 6-8 minutes until soft.

As the onion is cooking, drain the porcinis but reserve the soaking liquid. Roughly chop the porcinis and set aside, then strain the soaking liquid and add to the simmering stock. Season this liquid with salt and pepper.

Add the chopped porcinis to the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes. Next, stir in the risotto rice and cook for two minutes, stirring gently. Add in the white wine, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes until it has evaporated. Pour in the simmering stock, stir to combine, place a lid on top and put it into the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes until just al dente.

Remove the risotto from the oven, add the grated Parmesan and cubes of butter, then use a wooden spoon to beat everything together. Stir in the marjoram or parsley, whichever you are using, lemon juice and mascarpone, if using.

Serve immediately with grated Parmesan on top.

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