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La Belle Cuisine - More Side Dish Recipes

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Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion

"To cook is to create. And to create well...is an act of ingenuity, and faith."


Elizabeth David's Pilau Rice




"Cookery is become an art, a noble science; cooks are gentlemen.”
~ Robert Burton

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  Jean-Louis Bloch-Laine - Spices
Jean-Louis Bloch-Laine
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Friday, November 10, 2006

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Pilau Rice

South Wind Through the Kitchen: The Best of Elizabeth David
South Wind Through the Kitchen: The Best of Elizabeth David

Compiled by Jill Norman, 1998, North Point Press (a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

(from Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen)

For those of you unfamiliar with Elizabeth David, please allow me to introduce you with a word from the publisher of this fine compilation:
"Along with M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child, Elizabeth David changed the way we think about and prepare food. David's nine books, written with impeccable wit and considerable brilliance, helped educate the taste (and taste buds) of the postwar generation. Insisting on authentic recipes and fresh ingredients, she showed that food need not be complicated to be good."
As I have not (yet!) been able to include all of Ms. David's works in my library, I am delighted to have this compilation of some of her best and most inspired writings, many of which were chosen by her family and friends and by the chefs and writers she inspired (including Alice Waters and Barbara Kafka).

“There are Egyptian, Turkish, Persian, Indian, Chinese and goodness knows how many other systems of cooking and flavouring pilau rice. This is one of my own recipes, evolved by combining an Indian method with flavourings which are predominantly Levantine.
Measurements for Pilau rice cookery are nearly always based on volume rather than weight. The use of a cup or glass for measuring the rice simplifies the recipes because the cooking liquid is measured in the same vessel, the success of the process depending largely upon the correct proportions of liquid to rice. The cooking pot is also important, especially to those unfamiliar with the routine. Choose a saucepan or a two-handled casserole not too deep in proportion to its width. Whether of aluminum, iron, cast iron, copper or earthenware is not important provided the base is thick and even.
Those unfamiliar with rice cookery are advised to start by making a small quantity of pilau, enough for say two or three people. The recipe once mastered, it is easy to increase the quantities, in proportion, and to experiment with different flavourings. This quantity is for 2 – 3 people.
Using the best-quality thin-grain rice sold in the Indian shops under the name of Basmati, the initial ingredients and preparations are as follows:
1 tumbler of rice, 2 tumblers of water
Put the rice in a bowl and cover it with water. Leave it to soak for an hour
or so.
Cooking and flavouring ingredients are:
1 oz (30 g) clarified butter* (or ghee bought from an Indian provision store)
1 small onion
4 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds, or ground cumin
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
2 teaspoons of salt
a bay leaf or two
2 tumblers of water

The tumbler I use for measuring holds 6 oz (170 g) Basmati rice and 6 fl oz or just over 1/4 pint (150 ml) water.

[* Melt unsalted butter slowly over low heat, which will separate the milk solids from the fat. The milk solids will sink to the bottom of the pan, leaving the fat on the surface. Skim off any foam on the top, then carefully pour off the clear (clarified) butter. Discard the milk solids.]

Melt the butter in your rice-cooking pot or saucepan (for this quantity a 2 1/2-3 pints (1.4-1.8 l) one is large enough and in it cook the sliced onion for a few seconds, until it is translucent. It must not brown. This done, stir in the cardamom seeds extracted from their pods and the cumin seeds, both pounded in a mortar, and the turmeric. The latter is for colouring the rice a beautiful yellow, as well as for its flavour, and the object of cooking the spices in the fat is to develop their aromas before the rice is added. This is an important point.
Drain the rice, and put it into the butter and spice mixture. Stir it around until it glistens with the fat. Add the salt. Pour in the two tumblers of water and let it come to the boil fairly fast. Put in the bay leaf.
Let the rice cook steadily, uncovered, over medium heat until almost all the water is absorbed and holes begin to appear in the mass. This will take almost 10 minutes.
Now turn the heat as low as possible. Over the rice put a thickly folded absorbent tea cloth, and on top of the cloth (use an old one; the turmeric stains) the lid of the pan. Leave undisturbed, still over the lowest possible heat, for 20 – 25 minutes. At the end of this time the rice should be quite tender and each grain will be separated. Fork it round, turn into a warmed serving bowl.
The rice should be a fine yellow colour and mildly spiced.
The pilau can be eaten as an accompaniment to spiced lamb or beef kebabs, but to my mind is even nicer on its own, with the addition of a few sultanas or raisins, soaked for an hour in water, heated up in a little saucepan and mixed into the rice just before it is turned out of the saucepan for serving. Oven-toasted almonds or pine kernels make another attractive addition.
In the following recipe the rice is simply washed under running cold water rather than soaked. I find that it does not produce quite such a well-swollen and delicious rice, but may people hold that the quicker method is the
better one.

Quick Pilau Rice: If you are in a hurry, or have forgotten to soak the rice, simply put it in a sieve or colander, wash it very thoroughly under cold running water, and cook it as described for pilau rice – with or without spices – allowing a little longer, say five extra minutes, for the first part of the cooking.

Featured Archive Recipes:
 Curried Basmati Rice
Three-Grain Pilaf with Almonds and Shiitake Mushrooms

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