The Moby Dick of food

White rice

Even the most accomplished cook usually has one food item that utterly frustrates him or her. For many cooks the aggravation comes from the baking arena - pie crusts, pate a choux, and souffles are items that people frequently find difficult to successfully prepare. My vexation was something that most cooks find quite simple, but that took me over a decade to master: white rice.

Like Ahab in the Melville novel, I chased my white nemesis for years. I don't know why my attempts failed: if my rice was too old, the heat was too high, my cookware too thin, or the ratio of rice to water out of balance, but for the longest time I was unable to make proper rice. I scorched the bottom on countless occasions. Sometimes the rice was too hard; sometimes it was too mushy or the grains were blown apart. I threw out more batches of rice than you can imagine. The birds in my yard were happy but I fumed. Some of you might be thinking "electric rice cooker," but again like Ahab, I was obsessed with using a particular method. Plus, I was living in a tiny apartment crammed to the gills with cookware, cookbooks, a husband and his model car collection, and four cats; any more stuff and I think the floor would have collapsed.

Eventually I relented and enjoyed a brief reprieve by investing in a microwave rice cooker which didn't require precious counter space. Finally, I had rice that I could serve to guests and not just the birds. But one fateful day I forgot to add enough water and the rice cooker was ruined. I didn't replace it, however, as I was determined to finally finish my quest of successfully making rice on the stovetop.

Following the directions on the package of rice, I set out once again to conquer this simple task. worked. The rice was cooked through but not blown apart. The grains were distinct but not dry, and the pan wasn't scorched. So what did I do differently than before? I've asked myself that many times but can't find a definitive answer. Perhaps I'm not as nervous as I once was so didn't lift the lid too many times. My cookware (and my stove) is certainly better now than when I started cooking; maybe one of those changes made the difference. Despite my curiosity, I am not going to look too hard for the answer lest I end up doomed like the crew of the Pequod. Instead, I'll turn my focus onto another simple food with which I'm never quite satisfied: macaroni and cheese.

What item or recipe is your food nemesis?

Photo of White rice from 30 Things Everyone Should Know: Useful Hints and Techniques from Martha Stewart


1 Comment

  • hillsboroks  on  10/6/2014 at 4:04 PM

    Darcie, I absolutely feel your pain about learning to cook white rice! I used to be totally perplexed as to why one batch was perfect and the next was a disaster. The worst one was the time we were hosting Japanese foreign exchange students and my rice came out crunchy. My family has never let me forget that one! But I was in a hurry after work and was still using my old early marriage cookware that was a real challenge to work with. Once I upgraded to better cookware and started using the lowest heat setting on my electric stove, all my rice problems went away. I bet the cookware was probably a large part of your problem too. The best part of going to higher quality cookware is that lots of other cooking irritations went away too, like scorched puddings.

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