Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fermented rice deja vu

Not too long ago we talked about how to make your very own Homemade Fermented Rice. In the months since then, I have received some wonderful comments from readers and some encouraging reports of success, as well as a couple of interesting questions. 

The query that really struck my imagination was whether a rice cooker could be used instead of a steamer. I remember being told way back in my Taiwan days that only a bamboo steamer would render up rice grains that were firm and chewy enough to hold up to the fermentation. But I never did actually run into anyone who had attempted this, so I decided to put this common wisdom to the test.

The verdict: this ends up being the easiest way in the world to make your own hooch.

A rice cooker cuts out half of the time and pretty much 90% of the fuss. It's a no-brainer. And from now on, I'm going to be using my trusty Zojirushi Fuzzy to slap together jars of fermented rice on a regular basis. All I can say is, thank you Gentle Readers! Keep the questions and comments coming, either here, on Twitter, on Facebook, or via email. I learn as much (or more) from you as you do from me.

The recipe for Homemade Fermented Rice stays pretty much the same as before. However, you use different amounts of water, of course, you don't need to soak the rice before cooking it, and you don't need to haul out your bamboo steamers, line them with cloth, and pour boiling water over the rice at odd intervals. (I get exhausted just reading over that list.)

This time, just wash the rice, put it in your electric rice steamer, add filtered water up to the correct mark, and turn on the machine. That's it. After that, as with the traditional recipe, you rinse the cooked rice in a strainer to loosen up the grains and mix them with the yeast, sugar, cornstarch, and water. Couldn't be easier. (Please note that I've revised the original recipe to reflect this optional cooking method.)
All the flavor minus the fuss

Proportions of rice to water vary among rice cookers, but the one I used was 6¾ cups rice to 3¾ cups filtered water; if your cooker has directions on making "sweet rice," then follow those. Most cookers can't accommodate such a large volume of rice, so you may have to do this in two batches. Even then, this is still miles away the easier way to go about making Homemade Fermented Rice!

Nowadays, the counter area is packed cheek to jowl with all sorts of fermenting things, and I get a kick out of watching this homemade wine bubble and mutter away. What bliss.

This surplus of wondrous wine has given me the opportunity to make any number of dishes that come alive when the fermented rice is used instead of commercial rice wine. This is not to say that I don't use my favorite Shaoxing rice wine a whole lot, because I do, but with certain dishes, this homemade liquor adds just the right sweet and sour note that nothing else can supplant. 

Coming up in tomorrow's column is a lovely fish recipe from Shandong that is napped with a fermented rice sauce. And in the months ahead, I'll add more recipes that highlight this versatile ingredient, things like Fermented Rice Bread, a street food that used to warm up the coldest days Taipei had to offer...