Whether you’re used to cooking or not, chances are you’ll probably know how to cook rice (no, not the way BBC Food did it) in the rice cooker. Rice is a staple around the world, and most of us in Asia really can’t live without it. Here are some ways to make rice more interesting (using a part we don’t normally eat) and how to make it healthier (with less calories).
Even with a rice cooker, chances are that sometimes you’ll find the slightly hardened, burnt-looking bits of rice clinging to the bottom of the rice cooker pot. This scorched rice is chewy, nutty, and sometimes hard and sticky. Some of us love this bit of rice, particularly in dishes such as claypot rice, but some cultures around the world treat it as a delight!
Koreans love their scorched rice, called nurungji, and many families often keep leftover rice so that they can make nurungji snacks. You can make a ‘rice cracker’ simply by spreading a thin layer of rice over a pan and cook until they turn golden brown on both sides over low heat. You can also deep fry them and sprinkle some sugar over them to make crispy chips.
After a meal, you can add hot water to the leftover nurungji at the bottom of the pot to make a type of porridge, or nurungji juk, which has a slight nutty flavour.
You may be familiar with the ‘rice buns’ used at Mos Burger, and that’s how some Japanese eat their scorched rice, or okoge – moulded into a patty and pan-fried with soy sauce. Another popular way to enjoy the nutty flavour of okoge is by cooking Takikomi in a pot – a mixed rice dish seasoned with dashi, soy sauce, and vegetables – and the okoge that forms at the bottom of the pot is the most delicious part of the dish.
Traditionally, okoge is eaten with vegetables, pickles or moistened with water, soup, or tea, and is sometimes eaten as a part of a kaiseki meal at tea ceremonies. The Japanese love burnt rice so much that there are rice cookers with an okoge setting!
A popular snack in the streets of Ninh Binh is a scorched rice called cơm cháy, which is made from scorched glutinous rice that’s dried and then deep fried until crispy, and topped with ingredients like pork floss or dried shrimp.
There are so many other cultures that revere the humble scorched rice, from Ghana to Iran and Latin America. Diners in Spain vie for the socarrat in the paella pan. Filipinos use dukót as ice cream toppings. In China, guoba is added to sauces for a toasted flavour or eaten as a snack.
While frying rice makes it unhealthy, you can probably start off with cooking your rice the healthy way – there’s a way to prepare the rice to reduce the amount of calories it has.
Reducing the calories in your rice
A cup of white rice has about 200 calories, but there’s an easy way to reduce it: add a little fat, then let it cool.
Here’s the science: rice is made up of digestable and resistant starch – our bodies digest the former and transforms it into sugar that’s absorbed into our bloodstreams, but our bodies can’t digest the latter, which bypasses the small intestine and is metabolised in the colon where it feeds our colony of healthy gut bacteria. So, by reducing the digestible starch, we reduce the calorie intake.
Scientists at the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka added a teaspoon of coconut oil into their half-cup of white rice and cooked it for 40 minutes before refrigerating it for 12 hours. They found that the resulting rice had at least 10 times the resistant starch, and 10-15% fewer calories.
According to research presented at the American Chemical Society, using oil/fat and refrigeration cooking method can reduce calories by up to 60% if using healthy rice, like brown rice. The key is the refrigeration – this is why potato salad and pasta that’s been cooled also have higher resistant starch content than their hot counterparts.
So even if you don’t have oil handy, you can just stick your freshly-cooked rice into the fridge for 12 hours. The good news is that reheating it doesn’t affect its low calorie composition.