One of the most popular foods in our home was not an expensive item but, rather, an imaginative dish made of leftovers. My mother would cook rice the Chinese way, then leave the rice to cook longer and allow a crisp brown crust to form on the bottom.
We all lusted after the crust; it was so toasty and crunchy, almost like popcorn. Sometimes we would have it with just hot water, which would make a crackling porridge dish that was quite dramatic and exciting. In fact, my mother liked the crust so much that sometimes she would cook the rice, scrape it out and eat the crust before I got home. She would then smilingly say that there was no crust. I always knew better because I could smell the aromatic rice as soon as I walked in. On occasion, my mother would fry the rice and toss it into a simple soup, adding something like frozen peas. The soup would sizzle or sing, as my mother poetically put it.
The rice crust keeps well in a dry place, but not in the refrigerator, where it is moist. Once the crust is made, the rest of the soup can be assembled easily. I’m sure you will find this as delicious as I did growing up.
Put the rice and water in a large, wide, heavy pot. Bring the water to the boil over a high heat. Then turn the heat down as low as possible, cover and allow the rice to cook for about 45 minutes. The rice should form a heavy crust on the bottom. Remove all the loose rice to eat with your meal or to make fried rice, leaving the heavy crust in the pan.
Allow the crust to cook over a very low heat for 15 minutes, enough time to dry out, so that it should lift off easily. If it is still sticky, continue to cook over a very low heat for a further 5 minutes or so. It doesn’t matter if the crust breaks. Put the crust on a plate until it is ready for use. Once it has been cooked, it can be left out at room temperature for several days. Do not cover or refrigerate it, or moisture will form and make the cake mouldy or soggy.
Bring the stock to a simmer in a large pot. Toss in the peas and spring onions. Pour in the soy sauce and rice wine, then sprinkle in the salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn the soup into a large soup tureen. Swirl in the sesame oil.
Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Pour in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, deep-fry the pieces of rice crust until they puff up and brown slightly. Remove immediately and drain on kitchen paper. Then quickly drop the hot rice crust into the soup. Serve at once.
© 1998 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.