Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Great Mexican Rice

In the past I have declared my undying love for Rick Bayless; well, his Master Chef cooking skills anyway. After all, he won the first Top Chef Master competition, cooking Mexican food. I’ve prepared a few dishes out of his Mexican Kitchen cookbook, and let me say, it’s more than worth having. Quite a few of the recipes are of entertaining quality; the Chipotle Peanut Mole is doable and I have wowed hungry people with it. But I’m here to write about Mexican rice. I’ve had good rice and I’ve had been sitting in a steam table too long mushy rice. Rick’s recipe for rice is really good but the red rice calls for making your own salsa. I was looking for a way to make amazing red Mexican rice with a little less work. I believe I have it.

I love the technique for cooking the rice; it’s a little like risotto. You toast the rice (must be medium grain) on top of the stove with oil and chopped onion. It’s finished in the oven and baked until it’s almost done. The rice has a slightly firm bite, though cooked through, and the grains are separate. Wonderful! You might have to really look at the shelves for medium grain rice; long grain really dominates the scene. I use Hinode brand Calrose rice, because, frankly that is what’s available here. And instead of making salsa I use Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles, which comes in a 10 ounce can. It’s available in mild and original; I use mild as I don’t want to eat blast furnace rice (yes, an exaggeration)!

Rice and Roasted Green Beans

Great Mexican Rice
Serves 6 to 8

2 cups medium grain rice
4 teaspoons oil (I prefer olive)
1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped fine (white is authentic)
2 cans Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles, mild or original – your choice, pureed in a blender or food processor
1 ½ cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
½ cup chopped cilantro (but not if you hate cilantro)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large heavy sautĂ© pan or dutch oven (no non-stick pans please) heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and rice and stir around to coat with oil and get onion to sweating. Cook to toast rice, a little color is more than fine. Stir in tomato and chile puree well, then add salt and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, stir well, then cover and bake in oven for 25 minutes. Taste a grain; if it feels almost done put the cover back on and let it sit out for 5 minutes or more to finish cooking. It should be perfectly done. If when you test it it’s a little chalky, put it back in the oven and give it another 5 minutes. Repeat. After letting it sit, add cilantro and fluff with a fork. Then enjoy.

I have also made this rice without the salsa. It’s very wonderful also. The only real problem with this dish is that it’s hard to stop eating it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Little Clarification

Recently I was inspired by a friend to pick up my copy of the French Laundry Cookbook and actually use it. There’s a pretty doable recipe for brioche (a delicious, rich bread with loads of eggs and butter) as well as for homemade potato chips. I wanted to bake the brioche and use it for a neighborhood grilled cheese party and I decided what the hell, let’s make the potato chips too! In Thomas Keller’s recipe the potatoes are sliced thin and fried in canola oil and an equal amount of clarified butter.

Butter isn’t just fat; it contains milk solids as well. The milk solids are what make butter burn at high temperatures; remove them and you raise the smoke point. To do this, you gently heat the butter to melt it, skim off the foam that rises to the top, and then ladle off the clear butter on top. The milk solids are on the bottom of your pan and need to stay there. Take your time; tip the saucepan when needed to facilitate the job and voilá! You have clarified butter. Note: one pound of butter will yield 1 ½ cups of clarified butter.

Clarified Butter

To slice the potatoes paper thin I used my mandoline; a good v-slicer would work fine as long as it’s adjustable. I used small, different colored potatoes and left the skins on. When using a mandoline I have found that it is much easier to slice potatoes if I don’t press down too hard. A gentle hand will allow the potatoes to glide over the blade with no trouble. But pay attention! I once advised a friend that drinking wine while slicing might cause her to lose a finger and she opted out of buying a mandoline. Just as well, I guess!

So let’s make chips: heat 1 ½ cups each canola oil and clarified butter to 300 degrees (I use a candy thermometer) in a saucepan. Meanwhile, slice your potatoes. When the oil reaches temperature, quickly drop potato slices in the oil one at a time so they stay separate. When the chips reach the desired color, fish them out (I use a spider) and lay them on paper towels. Quickly add more potato slices and repeat the process until all your chips are cooked. Season with salt and pepper and eat! They are delicious.

Potato Chips

Since the brioche recipe is so easy and works so well and the potato chips were a snap to make, I will probably delve further into the cookbook that used to scare me so much. I’ll let you know.