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Cooking 1) Boiling

This is the first in an occasional series of posts about How I Learned To Cook.

Practically the first thing I learned to cook was pasta. And also rice. They are both very easy. You put them in boiling salted water and cook for the length of time it says on the packet. For pasta that is usually shorter than for rice. (3-15 minutes rather than 20-40 minutes.) Once that time has passed you strain it through a sieve or colander and eat it. You can tell when it is ready by picking the odd bit of rice and pasta out of the boiling water with a fork and testing it.

I am not a fan of boil-in-the-bag rice. It is messy and inconvenient to serve; you inevitably risk scalding yourself as you snip the bag open. Much better to cook the rice swimming round freely, and chase the last few grains out of the pan with hot water from the kettle. (Also you can use that water to rinse the rice as it sits in the sieve, a technique my future wife taught me.)

An early variation on this basic boiling technique which I tried in my late teens was to tip a packet of soup into the rice or pasta as it boiled. Also eating it with a lump of butter can mildly diminish the sense of despair which is easily generated by such a diet.

There are other foodstuffs which respond well to the basic boiling technique - essentially, almost all green vegetables and many of other colours as well, which can be bought in appropriately cut ready-to-boil servings, both frozen and fresh. Some of these do take a significant preparation time. For instance, I like eating potatoes, but I resent the time it takes to clean them and scrape them, and if pasta or rice is available for cooking instead I will almost always choose them. On the other hand I love cooking peas; chuck 'em into the water (with some mint if feeling adventurous) and three minutes later they are ready to eat - the perfect afterthought vegetable.

The other food which I enjoyed boiling even in my early teens and still love today is the humble egg. Soft-boiled inside the shell, they furnish a self-contained hot meal (best at just about five minutes, so that the yolk is still runny but the white more or less set). But even better, crack them into a pan of hot salted water, extract with a slotted spoon after three minutes and deposit onto your thickly buttered toast, and you have the poached egg breakfast which sustains me most mornings.

My culinary technique has moved on from simple boiling - or at least I like to think so - but this is where it started.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 21st, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
We have mostly given up on cooking potatoes, except for ready-to-roast frozen potatoes. These are easy, you just ignore whatever it says on the packet, turn up your oven as hot as it will go and cook them for about 30-45 minutes until they look nice and crisp.

I love jacket potatoes and went through a phase of making them regularly when working part-time, not so much now. Though it occurs to me that now I have a microwave combi oven I should be able to do decent jacket potatoes in about 20-30 minutes rather than 3 hours. As a student I mastered the 20 minute microwave potato but it had a sadly disappointing jacket.
Feb. 21st, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
I shall get on to baking and microwaving in later entries in this series!
Feb. 21st, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
Back on topic, I prefer the absorption method of cooking rice, mostly because I found it less hassle than washing up the rice-infested sieve. These days we have a dishwasher, but also these days I rarely cook.

Tony often adds a vegetable stock cube to the water in which rice is boiled.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
My Nan does this as well, or adds lemon grass pods.
Feb. 21st, 2010 09:58 pm (UTC)
Can I say that this is a crazy way to cook rice? You end up with rice that's still swimming in water, all soggy and wet instead of fluffy and dry. (If what you want is rice porridge or rice soup, well, fair enough, but that's surely not the normal case.)

Better to measure out the correct amount of water in the first place and cook until dry. (Better still to get a rice cooker, but that's probably not worth it unless you're eating rice several times a week.)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 21st, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
My rice cooker, a fairly basic Black and Decker, works just fine. We eat a lot of rice; mostly Thai jasmine but also some Basmati.
Feb. 21st, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
Rice cookers are mostly rubbish, and good only for making slightly mushy white rice. Good rice cookers are expensive, and usually Japanese.

Not my experience. I use a cheap Chinese-made cooker that I bought second hand from a student who didn't want to carry it home to China after graduating, and 15 years later it still makes excellent rice. There are a couple of tricks: you need to get the right amount of water for the consistency you want, and you have to leave the rice to sit for a bit after the cooker turns off, so that it can finish cooking.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
Do you not rinse the excess starch off the rice with cold water first then? I find two to three rinses is ideal. Also, of course, it's not really worth putting in any effort if it isn't good quality rice.
Feb. 21st, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
I'm all about pressure cooking rice! Fast and easy!
Feb. 21st, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
I rinse my rice with kettle-water, too. I didn't actually realise anybody else did. I just do it because I don't really want to eat all the starch which has come out the rice while it was boiling.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
I'm going to be watching these posts! I can use all the help I can get ...
Feb. 22nd, 2010 05:52 am (UTC)
The once-future wife switched to the absorption method for cooking rice many years ago...
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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