In the unlikely event that I ever make it onto Desert Island Discs, there’s one decision with which I would struggle massively. Not the music – a heady mix of northern soul, chiming indie rock and squelchy electronica. Sod that one book nonsense – I’d be taking a Kindle fully loaded with William Gibson, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut.
It would be the luxury item that would give me pause. Although the notion of a fast satellite uplink feeding a hot-rodded MacBook Pro appeals, I think in the end I’d have to plump for a rice cooker.
In fact, it would have to be the rice cooker I already own. The Electrolux TLC bought me for Christmas 2010. A remarkable device. It steams. It slow-cooks. It makes porridge. But the way it makes rice is nothing short of necromancy. Rice and liquid go into the pot, I press one button, and 15 minutes later I have perfect rice. Every single time. It’s a source of constant marvel and wonderment to me, and has me experimenting with the world’s most popular staple crop in all sorts of new and exciting ways.
Now, the food blogs have lit up this week with a little bit of genius that I’d like to share with you. Tucked away in a nonsensical listicle about 31 new uses for beer on the Men’s Health magazine website (typical example – use beer to glue down an errant eyebrow hair) was an utter diamond bullet of blinding revelation.
Cook rice in beer.
Just take a moment to contemplate that sentence. It sounds like utter madness, the sort of thing you’d try when you’ve maybe had too many beers in the first place. It’ll be revolting, right? Soggy, stinky stuff.
Let’s think about this. We have no problem throwing wine into a risotto – in fact it’s an essential step. Beer is mostly water anyway, and the cooking process will cook off most of the alcohol, leaving the flavour of the ale to scent the rice. It makes an awful lot of sense.
Now, here’s where the exceptions slot into place. The Beeranauts often talk about “cooking lager”, referring to the bog-standard swill that’s front and centre in the British pub. For the purposes of this article, there is no such thing. Lager, even the nice European stuff, will not do. You need an ale with body and flavour.
I’ve chosen Tanglefoot, Badger’s delicious amber brew that regularly seems to be in supermarket twofers. It’s a full 5 percent, rich and tasty. It’s a perfect ale for throwing into stews and casseroles. I see no reason not to try it on rice.
OK, rice cooking 101 for those of you that don’t have a magic rice cooker. Two rules. Double the liquid to rice, equal the cook time to stand. I’ll elaborate.
Take a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and throw in a cup of rice. I have a 160ml plastic job that serves purpose, but use a teacup or whatever else suits. Don’t just throw in a handful. Have an idea of how much rice has gone in.
On top of that, two cups of liquid. That should come to about two-thirds of a standard 500ml can or bottle. It’ll froth a bit. That’s ok. The bubbles help keep the rice from sticking. Now, bring the whole lot up to the boil, then turn it right down to the lowest that your hob will go, clap a lid on the pan, and walk away. You’ll have some beer left over. That’s your treat. You enjoy that.
After ten minutes, switch the rice off and leave it. The kitchen should be filling with a heady, nutty aroma, the sort of smell that cooking rice gives off mixed in with a sweetly savoury note. Yes, you can have sweet/savoury. Have you never had caramelised onions?
Anyway. After ten minutes, you’re done. The rice will be golden, slightly sticky in places where the sugar in the booze has cooked out, and will smell of heaven. It won’t be as strongly flavoured as cooking in stock, but it’ll have a certain something that’ll make you want to wolf it by the forkful. We had hake with a herb crust and tomato sauce with our Tanglefoot rice, but to be honest it’ll go with anything.
A 160ml measure gives plenty for 2 as a side, or one if you’re greedy. I recommend doubling the amount* so you have spare to fry up with a spring onion and a beaten egg. It’ll catch a bit more in the pan than normal cooked rice, but to be frank extra crunchy bits are one of the joys of yer egg-fried rice.
The possibilities are endless. I’d be wary of cooking rice in an insanely strong Trappist beer. Otherwise, all bets are off. What would Old Peculiar Rice be like? What would Newkie Brown Rice be like?
Holy smoke, what would Guinness Rice be like?
*Yes, yes, I know, doubling the amount means throwing more or less a whole can/bottle of beer into your rice. You have my permission to crack open a fresh one. The rice is worth that minor sacrifice.