But when my friend Dianne Jacob mentioned this lovely way with rice to me recently, there was a happy look in her eye as she recalled the exact same dish her mother used to make for her. The daughter of Iraqi Jews, her parents and grandparents had lived in the free port of Shanghai before and after World War II. What Casablanca was to the West, Shanghai was to the East: a place where refugees and those who just wanted a bit of peace in their lives sought as a new home as they settled down and tried to achieve a touch normalcy.
Dianne's mother obviously loved Shanghai because she wore Chinese clothes the rest of her life while dining on kosher Chinese. And you really can't blame her for finding joy and comfort in a dish like this, for it's one of those ingenious little things that make complete sense once you try them. Why we don't deep-fry rice on a regular basis is anybody's guess.
You see, the outside is crunchy and hot, while the inside is creamy and faintly sweet. Dust these with a bit of sugar and a few sesame seeds or crushed peanuts for your morning treat. Doughnuts will never again look as good.
Actually, I could eat these all day.
Deep-fried rice batons
Shanghai and Jiangsu
2 cups / 400 g sticky rice (brown or white), or use half white jasmine rice and half white short-grain sticky rice
3 cups / 700 ml water
2 cups / 470 ml peanut or vegetable oil (use ok if it smells fresh)
White sugar, optional
Toasted sesame seeds or ground peanuts, optional
1. Rinse the rice in a sieve under running water, drain, and place them in a saucepan. Add the water, bring the saucepan to a full boil, cover, and simmer it on low for about 20 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the pan sit for around 10 minutes so that the rice can continue to steam. (If you have a rice cooker, follow the manufacturer’s directions for making 6 cups cooked rice.)
2. Spray an 8-inch / 20 cm square pan with oil. Pat the warm rice into the pan, even it out, and press down lightly on it so that the rice sticks together without any air pockets. Cover the pan and chill overnight.
3. The next day, empty the pan out onto a cutting board. Slice the rice crosswise in half and then lengthwise into 16 even batons. Have a plate ready covered with tempura or parchment paper; paper towels will stick.
|Fry on both sides|
This recipe can be changed up a million ways to fit your appetite and menu. Consider adding finely chopped ham, ground sea moss or laver seaweed (nori), toasted sesame seeds, minced green onions… whatever appeals to you.
|Fragrant brown sticky rice|
You can vary these as you like, of course, and add or substitute different rices (think Thai black rice and brown sticky rice for starters), with other grains like millet tossed in for variety.
One thing to watch out for is the freshness of the rice. The smell of stale rice will become achingly apparent, since this is all about the perfume and flavor and texture of the rice. Nothing else. Take a big whiff of the rice when you open the bag - it should smell sweet and delicious.