Cooking Class Day 5 – Grains

This was week 5 of my cooking classes at L’Academie de Cuisine. I can’t believe five weeks have gone by already! I am loving every minute of this class, and I am really trying to make the most of what I am learning, by practicing as many of the dishes we discuss in class as possible. I have to admit that I was a little surprised when I asked some of my classmates if they had made the Vegetable Tempura, Caesar Salad, or the other dishes we learned in class last week at home, and their answer was “no”. Many of the chefs who assist out instructor, are previous students in the same cooking class we are taking. Some of them are even working in professional kitchens now. From what they have told me, I will learn a tremendous amount in this class, but everyone also, “gets out of it what they put into it.” I am trying to take advantage of this opportunity in every way I can. That being said, keeping up with this homework means we are going through butter, chicken necks, parsley, etc. at an alarming rate. I could single-handedly be responsible for a rise in Whole Foods Market stock. Our focus this week was on Grains including Rice Pilaf, Risotto, Creamy Polenta, Cornbread, and Quinoa. When I walked into class and saw these dishes written on the whiteboard, I was pretty excited because these are all things which I make (or have attempted to make) fairly often, and would be useful to master as part of my weekly cooking repertoire. One thing to immediately understand about grains is that each grain has it’s own ratio of water to grain with which it should be cooked, as well as different cooking times. When you buy a packaged rice mix with different grains in it, they have pre-cooked each type of grain beforehand to just the right point. This is done so that when you cook them at home, they will all be ready at the same time. Pretty convenient, huh? However, you are then succumbing to that little dehydrated spice packet, and paying for a tiny amount of rice in each little pre-packaged box. Also, it’s just not very “French Chef”, to rehydrate someone else’s rice and seasoning mix. For the Rice Pilaf, Chef Brian used a converted rice (such as Uncle Ben’s). Converted rice has been pearled or polished, removing some of the bran. To begin making the pilaf, you start with a pot on the stove with some butter (remember- there are very few exact measurements given in cooking class) and about half of a minced onion. Add a little salt to pull out the moisture from the onion, and let it sweat. You are just sweating the onion, not cooking it to color. Next, add in 1 cup of rice. Let them cook together briefly so that the rice can warm up. Next, add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock. The ratio for converted rice is 1 part rice to 1 1/2 parts liquid. By the way, every time I have seen the Chef make anything with chicken stock, he is using already warmed chicken stock which is on another pot on the stove. There is always a little pot of chicken stock simmering away when we walk into class. This seems so obvious to me now that I am seeing it, but never occurred to me before. Adding cool chicken stock would just make everything take longer by bringing down the temperature of the rice (or soup, or whatever else you are cooking). Having it warm and ready will undoubtedly help make your cooking easier and more efficient. So, back to the recipe! Allow the rice/ stock/ onion mixture to come to a boil, and add in your bouquet garni. In this case the bouquet garni was: parsley stems, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. It was rolled in a piece of cheesecloth into a little log and tied in a knot. Next, a cartouche (round piece of parchment paper the size of the pot) was cut and laid down directly on top of the cooking rice. Then, he just popped the whole thing in the oven. Now, this part really got me, because if you have ever made rice, I am sure you have read those recipes which emphatically direct you to cook the rice on the stove for “x” amount of minutes, being vigilant to never remove the lid. Or, even in my current favorite, Baked Brown Rice recipe from Alton Brown, you are supposed to cover the baking rice tightly with foil. This seemed to go against everything I had been instructed to do for so long. Won’t the heat escape??? One of my classmates asked, “What temperature should the oven should be set to?” The answer was 350 degrees, however, Chef Brian also told us it didn’t necessarily matter too much. Here is where some chemistry and physics come into play. Water at full boil is 212 degrees, and cannot go higher than 212, as long as liquid is present. So, as long as the oven is maintaining that 212 degrees, that is really all you are concerned with. The cartouche is just holding in as much flavor and moisture as it can (which would normally be lost to evaporation). The piece of parchment paper is certainly not serving to hold in any heat. The reasoning for finishing the rice in the oven instead of on the stove, is that in the oven the rice is getting hit with heat from all sides, helping it to cook uniformly. The cooking time for Uncle Ben’s converted Rice is 17 minutes. Of course, I asked at this point,”How would it differ if I substituted brown rice?” Brown rice needs a higher ratio of liquid to rice ( 2 parts liquid to 1 part rice), and would likely take closer to 20 minutes to cook). You can bet I will be trying that out this week. Once you have pulled the rice pilaf out of the oven, fluff it, and taste for salt. It pretty much always needs more salt. I am not just saying this because I like things on the salty side. The number one comment when any of the chefs taste your food in class is…”Could use a touch more salt”. Don’t forget to remove the bouquet garni! If you wanted to be fancy you could add some spinach (fresh of course), and stir at the cooking halfway point. You could also add some sautéed mushrooms, but you would want to cook them separately, and then add them to the rice. Another thing to know: I was reading about rice in one of the many books Chef Brian has recommended to us, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. This book reads like a science textbook, but apparently it is an amazing culinary resource. In the book, I found the following information about rice interesting, and a little scary: “Cooked rice turns out to be a potential source of food poisoning. Raw rice almost always carries dormant spores of the bacterium Bacillus cereus, which produces powerful gastrointestinal toxins. The spores can tolerate high temperatures, and some survive cooking. If cooked rice is left for a few hours at room temperature, spores germinate, bacteria multiply, and toxins accumulate. Ordinary cooked rice should therefore be served promptly, and leftovers refrigerated to prevent bacterial growth.”(p.475) There you have it folks. Sorry to leave things on that note, but…refrigerate that rice! McGee also notes that: “The rice in Japanese sushi is served at room temperature, but the surface of the cooked grains are coated with a flavorful and antimicrobial mixture of rice vinegar and sugar. Rice salads should be similarly acidified with vinegar, lemon or lime juice.”(p.475) Image So, that is it for now. Tonight I will be making risotto, and hope to report back soon. If you want a little more visual instruction for Rice Pilaf, I found this video on YouTube, which seems very close to what we were taught in class. It is from Cooking with Tse: Happy Cooking! Melissa


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