If you have a bowl of cold, cooked rice, you have much.
In my book, there is no other food item that can present itself in as many satisfactory guises as rice does. The humble, willing workhorse of the food world, it argues with very little. A few chopped spring onions, eggs, veg and soy sauce heralds the far-east into your home. Chucked into a pot of steaming, aromatic stock and you have spoon-and-slurp comfort. Coat it luxuriously with curd, add some tempered spices and curry leaves and a pickle will need no other accompaniment for this Tamilian staple, thair sadam (curd rice). Cook it thickly with jaggery sweetened coconut milk and add toasted cashew nuts for a nursery food like, sweetly nostalgic end to the day. Better yet, begin your day with the caramelised yet savoury undertones of an Indonesian Nasi Goreng.
Despite my most conscientious efforts, I never manage to get a dinner’s serving of rice quite right. Either I am left with an abundant quantity of the airy, puffed grains, or I am scrambling through the freezer, mid-meal, to quickly top-up the threatening, replenishing levels of the bowl on the table. Most of the time, I err on the side of greed, and cook generously, not only because, I will have a bowlful or two to turn into something wonderful the next day. The peskiness, of the universal question every home cook asks themselves – “What to make for dinner?” – is taken out of the cooking when decisions are already made for you. I like the assertiveness of that quiet bowl of rice.
This Indonesian breakfast, may come across as odd. I however, find it perfectly suited to that suspended time between morning and afternoon, around ten closing in on eleven. When the morning has marched past milk soaked cereals (ugh..not a fan), but rocket leaves and vinaigrettes would be to brutal on the tastebuds. Here, the soft grains of the rice, flavoured only with the sweetness of sweet Indonesian soy sauce, bolstered by a fried egg, sits in perfect balance with the position of the clock’s hands. Brunch then.
Shrimp paste is one of the key ingredients here. To use it, it must be gently roasted over a flame until toasted, emitting a pungent smell. Don’t scrunch your nose. The effect it has on the dish is akin to the salty – savoury effect of anchovies when used in a considered measure. You could leave it out, if you choose. Make a spice paste (very simple), fry that gently a wee bit, chuck in rice, add Indonesian soy sauce, and you are basically done. I didn’t detect fishiness, but I did get that salty depth of flavour that made it so moreish and balanced, against the sweet soy. The wonderful, earthy, smoky, caramel flavour of the soy coated rice, peppered with the fresh zing of coriander and spring onion, made for a robust and in-tune partner to a simple firm fried egg (runny yolk does not work well here).
I can understand that this might not be your breakfast of choice. For me however, the carbohydrates and the protein really buoyed me up for the hours ahead. Consider this too, for a lunch with seafood, such as grilled prawns, pieces of grilled fish, even stronger ones like mackerel (stiff and fresh please). A dipping sauce made of light soy, chillies and something acidic such as lime juice/rice vinegar would be a perfect salty, piquant accompaniment.
Rice. Truly versatile.
recipe from Cradle of Flavour by James Oseland
For the flavouring paste
1 teaspoon dried shrimp
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
1-2 fresh red long chillies, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoon palm sugar, thinly sliced or dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons peanut oil
5 cups cooked jasmine rice made from 2 cups of uncooked rice, fridge cold
1 1/2 tablespoons Indonesian sweet soy sauce
4 kirby cucumbers or 2 small seeded cucumbers sliced thickly, to serve, optional
To make the flavouring paste – Place the shrimp paste in the centre of a 5 inch square of foil. Folk the edges over to form a parcel. Flatten it slightly. Put a burner on medium flame and with tongs, hold the parcel over the flame, until it smokes and releases a burning, shrimpy smell. Turn over and do the same. Set aside to cool for half a minute. When opened, the paste should be black brown at the edges with a golden centre and maybe some black brown patches there too. Place the shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, chilli and palm sugar into a food processor and blitz to a smooth creamy mashed potato sort of consistency. If too thick, then add water, juidiciously. Keep aside Heat the oul in a non stick pan and fry your eggs until the edges are crisp and the yolk is firm. Set aside. Let the pan cool a bit, then add your paste, frying gently, for five minutes until the oil separates from it and the garlic and shallots don’t smell raw. Even if the oil doesn’t separate, don’t brown or worse, burn it. Just go on to the next step. Add the cooked rice to teh pan, breaking up any clumps, raise the heat and cook while stirring constantly until every grain is well coated in the paste. Add the the soy sauce, stir thoroughly for 30 seconds. Check for seasoning. Serve onto four plates, top with the fried egg and serve with the cucumbers, if using. Serve immediately.