This may sound ridiculous. All you have to do to cook the perfect rice is to put the grains in the rice cooker, soak them in the exact amount of water, press the control, and voila! You have the perfect rice.
But we’re talking here about charcoal-fired claypot rice, that exquisite delicacy whose mere whiff of fragrance is enough to make your mouth water.
It takes some skill and effort to prepare claypot rice. The basic steps include rinsing, soaking, heating, boiling, steaming and stewing.
Back in the days when rice grains were mixed with bran and even fine stones, thorough rinsing was a must.
The grains available in today’s market are all certified and heavily processed, and a brief rinse would be enough.
Regardless of the type, all rinsed grains should be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes. Some, such as brown rice, might require a longer time to absorb sufficient water.
Many modern rice cookers that apply induction heater (IH) technology would take about 45 to 60 minutes to cook the grains, and that includes the soaking stage.
Some models maintain a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius to speed up the grains’ absorption of water.
The heating process – from start to first boiling – should take around 10 minutes, allowing for starch gelatinization.
At this stage, enzymes present in rice grains break up starch into smaller units, bringing out the sweet flavor of rice. The activity of the enzymes is highest when the temperature falls between 40 and 60 degrees Celsius.
Once the pot boils, just let it be for another five minutes, letting the grains move up and down along the current.
The starch released from the grains increases the stickiness of the mixture.
After 15 minutes the rice is cooked; the excess water escapes from the post as steam.
Turn off the heat, give the rice a stir and close the lid for another 10 minutes. The grains should be left for stewing by the remaining heat.
The claypot itself makes the rice delicious. It is a poorer conductor of heat, which means it cools off rather slowly and stews the rice for an extended period of time under substantial temperature.
The use of charcoal fire gives the grains a certain rural fragrance.
This kind of cooking is not likely to take place in the typical Hong Kong home, however.
Using a claypot and charcoal fire to cook the perfect rice is more of a wishful thinking.
Most families would depend on their electric rice cookers instead.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 3.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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