Rice is the star of London’s kitchens right nowMarch 10, 2017, 11:03 am
Rice has long been a kitchen workhorse, the ace base of everything from stews to curries. But now a new cookbook is putting the humble grain in the spotlight. Emily Kydd, author of Posh Toast, a compendium of 70 recipes for “glorious things on toast” from basic rarebit to tagliata crostini, has turned her attention to rice, and she says it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
“A lot of people think rice is just a side dish, but it can be the star,” says Kydd, whose Posh Rice cookbook boasts recipes from Maltese baked rice — “like lasagne with no pasta” — to classic lamb biryanis and snack-sized rice pakoras. “Around the world, everyone always has a bag of rice in the cupboard,” she says. “We’re elevating it and jazzing it up.”
One recentinnovation is the rice burger. New York has fallen for this glorious disruptor in the fast-food market: rice moulded into the shape of bun halves with meat in between.
Rice has a well-earned reputation as a superfood. Giles Humphries, co-founder of healthy eating delivery company Mindful Chef, says, “It’s rich in B vitamins and dietary fibre and can also help to maintain blood sugar levels. In our recipes you’ll find black rice, which is packed full of antioxidants, wild rice, which is full of vitamin E and zinc, and red rice, which has the highest iron content of all commercially available rice.”
But it doesn’t all have to be achingly healthy. “We have a delicious chocolate rice pudding tart, and that’s not very healthy at all,” says Kydd.
A quick tour of London’s kitchens backs her up. The Thai street food dishes served up at Spitalfields restaurant Som Saa are made with jasmine rice, stir-fried with shrimp paste and served with accompaniments such as sweet pork, green mango, chillies and shredded omelette.
At TA TA Eatery, the Haggerston rice revolutionaries who set up shop in London last year, they use rice in sake, tea, beer, vinegar, mochi — and, of course, for their small plates. “To eat food on top of rice is something very common in Asia, a bit like scrambled egg on toast,” say Zijun Meng and Ana Gonçalves, the restaurant’s founders. “The noodle trend that has been going on for the past couple of years is fading now into a rice trend.”
Their favourite dishes include natto and egg yolk with sesame and spring onions; grilled secretos, fried egg and grilled leek, and steamed fish with seaweed, sesame oil and soy.
Martin Morales, founder of Peruvian restaurant chain Ceviche, says rice has reached “a mainstream sweet spot right now” thanks to its “simplicity, and the rise and mainstream appeal of Asian cuisine”.
“Rice was introduced to Peru in the mid-19th century by Chinese workers, replacing garnishes and accompaniments,” he says, pointing to fusions such as arroz con pato — duck in a marinated rice with coriander, beer and Amarillo chilli sauce.
In the case of Posh Rice there was a lot of research to do, but Kydd “loved exploring the dishes typical of countries around the world, and the rice-cooking techniques used in these cuisines”.
“There are so many varieties, and it’s so affordable,” she says. Her favourite dish in the book is “curried rice salad, a bit like my mum used to make, a very retro, Eighties dish”. And the further benefits? “It’s gluten-free and if you soak it overnight it’s easy to digest.”
There are 70 recipes in Kydd’s book, all beautifully styled by her (she freelances as a food stylist). But she says the possibilities are infinite. Are there more grains of rice in the universe than stars? Unlikely, but they’re certainly more delicious.