Rice originated in western Africa and southern China. It was domesticated, and cultivation rapidly swelled to neighbouring continents. Now, India, China, and Indonesia top the crop's production rates, and there's little wonder why it's perceived as a quintessentially Asian food.
"In Asian cultures, rice is most commonly eaten every day and is the main staple," Pastry Chef Lauren Sung explains. "Rice is usually eaten on its own as part of a savoury main dish.” Look closely and you'll find rice on every menu such as Armenia's millennium-old Dolma, the Mexican Chimichanga (a rice burrito), western Africa's traditional Jollof, the 1200-year-old Spanish Paella, and the 443-year-old Italian Risotto amongst others.
"However, [rice] is not a common ingredient... in western-style desserts," the 37-year-old Singaporean adds.
She's right. You'd be hard-pressed to find a decent selection of western sweet rice desserts – save for variations of the French Riz Au Lait (rice pudding), the flat quiche-like Belgian Tarte Au Riz, and the German Apfelreisauflauf (apple-rice souffle).
And then there's Asia with Indian Kheer (rice pudding), Chinese Nian Gao (literally year cake) and dumplings served with sugar or red bean paste, Japanese mochi and Dango, Indonesian Pulut Hitam (black glutinous rice), Malay Seri Muka (glutinous rice, coconut milk, and pandan) and Pulut Inti, Thai sticky rice with mango, coconut milk, and durian, Ottoman-style Sütlaç (Turkish rice pudding), and Persian rice shortbread, – just to name a few.
What stands out to Sung, is not so much the impressive calibre of rice, but memories pegged to each humble grain. Growing up in a traditional Chinese family in the early 90s, Sung frequently had congee at home. "When you eat rice or drink porridge, there's a fragrance in the soup," she reminisces. According to Sung, "if you love your Teochew porridge", you will know the murky white soup she's referring to. "I'm a porridge person, and my grandmother would say, 'Leave the porridge broth for me!’", Sung giggles.
Sung came up with a rice-based dessert recipe that involves "extracting the subtle flavour of fragrant white rice", making it into a sorbet, and injecting "puff rice [to] lend aromatic roasted notes as well as crunchiness to the dessert."
Even though the focus on the plate is on the black glutinous rice pudding (which boasts nutty flavours and a nice, chewy texture), the overall flavours are immaculately balanced – not one overwhelming another.
"[The] dessert's called 'Textures of Rice & Mango'. It is inspired by my time in Mexico, where Horchata, a traditional beverage made with rice, is popular amongst the locals," Sung explains.
While rice has a beautiful, understated fragrance, Sung notes that it is indeed difficult to prepare rice: "If the rice is overcooked, it can become too mushy and conversely, overly grainy if undercooked." Also, rice being a carbohydrate, "can be quite dense.” But when it’s conscientiously executed, the contrasting textures of varying rice types can taste surprisingly remarkable.
Here, Sung shares her full recipe:
Textures of Rice & Mango
Preparation Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Black Glutinous Rice Pudding
100 grams Black Glutinous Rice
200 grams Water
3 pieces Pandan leaves
A pinch of salt
100 grams Cream
20 grams Sugar
1 piece Gelatine leaf
1. Cook black glutinous rice with water, pandan leaves and salt in a rice cooker.
2. Bring the cream and sugar to boil. Add the softened gelatine leaf and mix well.
3. Add cooked rice and stir well.
4. Fill desired mould with the rice pudding mixture. Allow to set in the fridge. Remove pudding from mould when ready to serve.
Coconut Rice Tuile
30 grams Rice Flour
30 grams Desiccated Coconut
60 grams Sugar
8 grams Melted Butter
1. Mix all ingredients together till smooth.
2. Line baking tray with slip mat, and spread a thin layer of tuile mixture over.
3. Oven-bake at 160-degrees Celsius for 15 minutes.
Barley Rice Sorbet
300 grams Water
40 grams Barley
20 grams Rice
30 grams Sugar
1. Boil barley and rice in water till grains soften.
2. Add sugar and mix well. Process in a blender.
3. Place mixture in freezer for at least 1 hour.
4. Churn the semi-frozen mixture in a blender and place in freezer till ready to serve.
Mango Lime Cream
40 grams Mango Purée
10 grams Lime Purée
35 grams Sugar
25 grams Butter
1. Whisk both purées, sugar and egg together, and cook in bain-marie until mixture thickens.
2. Allow to cool, then add butter and mix well. Place in fridge till ready to serve.
50 grams Coconut Water
20 grams Pandan Juice
0.5 grams Agar
10 grams Sugar
1. Bring all ingredients to boil.
2. Allow to set in the fridge. Process with hand-blender, strain, and set aside till ready to serve.
Salted Gula Melaka Wild Rice Crispies
20 grams Honey
20 grams Gula Melaka
A pinch of sea salt
10 grams Puff rice
1. Bring honey and Gula Melaka to boil.
2. Add sea salt and puff rice. Stir well.
3. Allow to cool and set at room temperature. Chop into pieces and set aside till ready to serve.
Find Chef Lauren Sung at SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar, 41 Robertson Quay.
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