Musings on the Art of Rice Cooking

I learned everything that I know about cooking rice from my mom.

For a more comprehensive list of things that I learned from her, I am currently writing an autobiography with the working title, “Dreams from My Mother.” Some people who have read the initial drafts contend (in hushed, deferential tones) that it is on track to be a post-modern masterpiece. I am extremely humble, so it is not in my nature to question their assessment.

My mom is my sole spiritual and scientific guide in the rice arts. She is a biology professor, so she (presumably) understands science. In this regard, she has taught me to be methodologically sound and consistent. Scientific experiments requires a singular focus on every variable being exactly the same between iterations, save for the one being tested. Cooking rice requires the same mindset. However, my mom is also an artist. As such, she has taught me shockingly little about the underlying reasons for any of these steps. People often say that there are no bad questions (this platitude is laughably false, most questions are bad). When cooking rice there are no questions at all. Thankfully, this builds the optimal level of knowledge for rice cooking. A philosophy major would spend hours thinking about this process’ epistemology. But, think about how much rice you could cook in those hours. If you ever find yourself cooking rice with a philosopher, it is essential to have another philosopher on hand. They can philosophize in the other room.

Anyway, rice is very important to me for two reasons. First, on a basic level it has fed me for my entire life (Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, states that he typically drinks three cans of Coca Cola during the day and two at night, and occasionally treats himself to an additional Cherry Coke. As he explains, “I checked the actuarial tables, and the lowest death rate is among six-year-olds. So I decided to eat like a six-year-old. It’s the safest course I can take.” He also muses, “I’m one quarter Coca-Cola. If I eat 2,700 calories a day, a quarter of that is Coca-Cola.” Warren’s logic is airtight. So according to these postulates, I am one half rice and zero percent Diet Coke, despite utilizing it as a substitute for water). Secondly, rice is a thread that connects thousands of amazing home meals in my memory. When cooking rice, I often find myself vividly reliving these memories (like sand through the hourglass or an acid flashback). Why does such a mundane process evoke such lush recollections? I have no idea, but perhaps recounting the process step by step will enlighten me. What follows is an exhaustively detailed and incredibly boring description of cooking rice. If you have read this far you obviously have an affinity for inane musings. That said, you should still probably stop here unless you are a wanton glutton for meaningless, masturbatory prose.

Warren Buffet enjoying a Cherry Coke

As is tradition, start by filling a cup with cold water from the sink. As actor Samuel L. Jackson once said, “Hold on to your butts.” Pour this water into the bottom of the rice cooker until it is about 1 inch deep. Plug the cooker into an outlet. The cooker is of the two pronged variety, so hopefully your outlet is too. If not, just make it work. Push down on the latch in the front and it will snap down with a tactile twang. A dim orange light turns on. The rice cooker has a job to do.

If you find yourself without a rice cooker at this juncture why are you still reading? Also, get help. There are people and organizations that can help you turn your life around. You are not alone.*

*Please note, my in-house legal counsel has strenuously objected to the inclusion of the previous paragraph. As an artist who’s vision will not be compromised, I have chosen to ignore his puerile and legalistic concerns. Nevertheless, we maintain a robust attorney-client relationship.

Next pour out cups of rice into a medium-sized metal bowl. The general rule of thumb is that each cup of rice is enough for one person. I usually make one and a half cups for myself because I am still growing. I believe this rice cooker has made literally one item in it’s existence. White Rice. As a quick aside, brown rice is a fabrication of a vast global conspiracy to brainwash people into eating a laughably inferior product. The critical aspect of this bowl is that it be constructed of metal, and more technically, that it actually fit into the rice cooker. I have only used a metal bowl because that is what my mother always used. I also assume that she has rigorously tested the preferred material of the bowl in a rigorous and scientific manner. I reiterate, she is a scientist.

Next, rinse the rice with water, caressing each individual grain with your hands. Pour out the water without losing any rice. According to an ancient proverb that my mother frequently exclaimed, “It is a sin to waste even a single grain of rice.” She may or may not have completely made this up, but it at least has the veneer of truth. It is a game as old as time: ancient proverb or thing that moms completely made up. Repeat this process until it feels like the rice is washed. I cannot stress this enough. Whatever seems like the appropriate amount of rinsing, multiply that amount by three to five times. This is frustrating if you do not enjoy washing rice. However, luckily I very much enjoy washing rice. It is very tactile and the feeling of rice on the hand is very pleasing. In fact, sometimes I will get so lost in the moment that I realize I have been washing the rice for 15 minutes. Those are the only times I have adequately washed rice.

When the rice has been cleaned, fill up the metal bowl with water until it is a half inch above the rice. A good trick is that it should be around the depth of your first knuckle on your middle finger, unless you have comically small or large hands. If that is the case, I do not know what to tell you. Finally, place the bowl into the rice cooker so it is partially submerged in the water (If the bowl floats that is not good. Make it work). Cover with the top, and wait.

I have never actually timed how long it takes to cook rice, as there is no timer on my device. This is silly considering I constantly think that this will be the time I remember to keep track of this metric. If you are hungry, it will feel like an infinite, interminable period of time. If you are not ravenously hungry and do other things in the interim, it will seem like a reasonably short amount of time. The brain works in mysterious ways, but this differential in perception might also be sorcery. As Kevin Costner once said, “Besides, I don’t believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of rice.” When the rice is finished cooking the front latch will snap up with a satisfying, loud thwack that is audible from anywhere in an apartment. If you live in a house, congratulations, but you will not hear the thwack. Take a bite to test, and if suitable, serve. If in doubt, my impression is that it is impossible to overcook rice with this method.

Ms. Tatung

My rice cooker is from the 1960’s and it has cooked a vast quantity of rice. Here is where I could insert a long section waxing poetic on the beauty of simple, aggressively functional objects that stand the test of time. I could also talk about how our society has become driven by disposability and that things are not made like they used to be. But you have probably seen that before and I would hate to waste your time anymore than I have assuredly done already. And if you have not, start with the collected press tours of Yvon Chouinard and go from there. Anyway, my rice cooker has the name, “Tatung” on it, which is probably the manufacturer. However, I like to think that it is her name. During it’s heyday, roughly between the 1960’s and 2010 it cooked rice between 6-7 times a week. From what I can gather, it is an insulated compartment with a bottom that heats up and a latch that makes a thwack when the water is completely evaporated. It also has a nice orange light when it is on. Every time I make rice, the ghosts of rice batches past smile down from above. They will soon have a new friend.

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