The thrilling challenge of burnt rice

IT TAKES NERVE to toast the rice, to get a suitable crust at the bottom of the pan, that layer of grains cooked after their time, tanned ...


IT TAKES NERVE to toast the rice, to get a suitable crust at the bottom of the pan, that layer of grains cooked after their time, tanned and crispy but stopped just before burning; go almost too far. You can’t see what’s going on. All that is visible if you lift the lid is the soft and productive rice on the top, chewy and smooth. But don’t lift the lid and stir. Maybe you place a towel around the edge for a tighter seal to catch any drips of condensation; maybe you raise the flame, bend down to hear the last rustle of water boiling, then turn off the burner and leave the pan in place, sitting there ticking in the declining heat. You have to rely on your sense of smell to recognize when the magnificent scent of roasting is nearing its peak – when it hits that note of just bursting popcorn, turning beans or hot chestnuts from the street carts in. winter, tossed into woks with tiny black stones and torn from their sleeves – to save him before he ended up in bitterness. Your reward: the dark side of rice, its alter ego, grains that are hard and sealed together, soft and crunchy and sublime.

Almost everywhere in the world where rice is eaten, as a staple food and as an heirloom, people have names for this prized crust, among them xoon, tahdig, com cháy, socarrat, pegao, nurungji, hikakeh, graten, kanzo, guoba, concón, cocolón, okoge, raspa, kerak nasi, bun bun, tutong, dukot, cucayo and bay kdaing. Some of these names are derived, in various ways, from words denoting the location of the rice (in Farsi, “tahdigIs literally “the bottom of the pot”, and in parts of Africa English has been co-opted into the terms “bottom pot” and “underpot”), the tenacity with which the rice clings to the container ( “Dukot” comes from a Cebuano verb meaning “to stay too long in the area”), it is therefore necessary to take it by force (the Cuban “raspa” comes from the Spanish “raspar”, “to scratch”) and the act or the state of burn (“socarrat” would have Basque roots sukarra, or “fever”; “Com cháy” is commonly translated from Vietnamese as “burnt rice”).


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– Retrace the history of Mexico through its ambivalent relationship to rice, a staple food inextricable of colonialism.

– When burnt at the bottom of the pot By a skilled cook, Rice goes from a bland supporting actor to a rich and complex protagonist.

– Mansaf, a Bedouin dish of lamb and rice, is both a national symbol in Jordan and a home talisman for the Arab-American diaspora in the suburbs of Detroit.

– Senegal, which consumes more rice per capita, largely imported, than almost any other African country, is trying to resuscitate local varieties.


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