Hello, cats and kittens, and welcome back to the roller coaster of emotions known as Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I make whatever you want me to with my immersion circulator. This week I'm playing around with a certain grain I've been particularly curious about.
As with any regional cuisine, "Indian food" is a pretty broad topic. My thoughts first went to curry, but I suspected the method would end up being pretty similar to that of our chilli con carne experiment, so I went with biryani, a mixed rice dish with a ton of flavour that I have enjoyed at many fine Indian restaurants. I've been wanting to cook a rice dish with this thing for a while anyway, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
I'll be honest, I wasn't particularly hopeful that this would work, but then I found a recipe for sous-vide brown rice pilaf on Anova's website and became cautiously excited. As for a biryani recipe, I used this one as a template, omitting the coriander leaves (because my grocery store didn't have any) and the mint (because I forgot about it; it's still sitting on the counter).
I sauteed my beautiful spices in oil, added some minced ginger and garlic and stirred in the rice to coat.
I then added in a healthy pinch of saffron, and stirred that around for a bit. Things were starting to smell pretty, pretty good, and I began to believe that this was all going to turn out deliciously. (Ron Howard voice: "But it wouldn't turn out deliciously.")
I'm just wild about it.
Then — in a classic case of "you know better, arsehole" — I simply chucked it all in a bag with some broth (a little less than what the biryani recipe required), set the timer for three hours and walked away, assuming that the recommended cooking time from the brown rice recipe would be just fine.
This was dumb for two reasons:
- Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice.
- Nothing is ever "just fine".
When I removed the bag from the bath, I was greeted with a gross, congealed mass of the grain formerly known as rice.
This was fairly upsetting, as there were many expensive spices in that bag, particularly saffron. (Which I've already mentioned I am just wild about.) So that sucked.
Now, this (SAD! PATHETIC!) result could have been caused by a few of different factors. I could have overcooked it, and I'm sure I did, but I also began to suspect that maybe this cooking method was not conducive to tender, fluffy, perfectly cooked rice. (Decreasing the broth may have also been a bad idea.)
To figure out exactly what went wrong, and to see if rice itself was capable of sous vide-ing, I prepared another batch of basmati, only this time I added a bit more broth and omitted all of those pricey spices, because I don't like crying. I then chucked it back in that 82C bath, and checked on it at various intervals.
Here you see the rice at 30 minutes, 1 hour and 2 hours, respectively.
The rice was predictably crunchy at the half and one hour marks, but by two hours it had somehow morphed into a grain that defied science itself by being both mushy and crunchy at the same. I let it go for another for another half hour, to see if conditions would improve, but we never approached anything I would call "edible".
You were not meant to be.
At two and half hours, the rice had become even mushier (though still crunchy in spots!) and was still very displeasing to my mouth. I threw the bag directly into the trash.
So, going back to everyone's favourite question: Will Indian food sous vide?
The Answer: I mean, I'm sure there is some Indian food out there that will sous vide up quite nicely, but biryani ain't it. In fact, I feel pretty comfortable saying that rice itself is just a bad candidate for the immersion circulator, though it is possible a heartier, darker rice would do better than the delicate, pale basmati.
I should have gone with curry, is what I'm saying, because then I could be eating delicious curry, instead of tossing out a whole bunch of (SAD! PATHETIC!) rice and about 30 strands of saffron.