Culture. Crunchy. Caramelization. And why sometimes burnt rice makes the best rice dishes.
When we find burnt rice at the bottoms or sides of our pots and pans, it would seem our food is somewhat spoiled. Or is it? Not when it is intentional and gives extra crunchiness and sweetness to our food! In Chinese claypot rice (called 煲-bo 仔-zhai 飯-fan; pictured above), for example, part of its delicious flavors and taste come from the crispy crust of burnt rice along the inner walls and bottoms of the claypots.
Or take Spanish paella. One of the secrets to great paella is also the crunchy crust of burnt rice along the sides and bottom of the pan it is cooked in. This crust is called socorrat (from the Spanish verb socarrar i.e. to singe). Socorrat is achieved when we “turn up the heat at the end of cooking“.
The need to turn up the heat gives us a clue why burnt rice is so crunchy, crispy and sweet. Raising the temperature drives out the moisture. At the same time, it means the sugars and amino acids in the rice and ingredients can undergo caramelization and Maillard reactions.
For example, in claypot rice, the dark sweet sauce used contains sugars that can be caramelized like the caramelized sugar for crème brûlée (read all about it in the 1 Minute NomNom “Burn (sugar) baby burn“).
Or the meat used for making paella contains amino acids that react with sugars to give new flavor compounds like the brown crusts we see on meats and breads (see the 1-Minute NomNom “How now, brown cow?“).
Turning burnt rice into a delicious dish relished for its crunchy and sweet taste seems to cut across cultures. According to Bon Appetit, other cultures and dishes who do so include:
- Azerbajian’s balık plov
- Dominicans con con
- Indonesian intip
- Iranian shirin polow
- Korean nurungji
- Senegalese xoon
- Thailand’s khao taen
- Vietnamese cơm cháy
The burnt rice is in fact something some cultures missed when they switched to using the modern rice cooker. With the rice cooker, the rice would always be cooked right and there would be no burnt rice (compare old and new ways of cooking rice in the 1-Minute NomNom “Okama sutra“).
As a result, some rice cookers include menu settings such as “okoge” (the Japanese word for the burnt crust at the bottom of the pot) or a “built-in tahdig function” (tahdig is the Iranian word for the golden burnt rice crust)!
Have you tried dishes with burnt rice before? Which ingredients in these dishes contribute to its flavors? Tell us in the comments below!
Like this? Keep your knowledge crispy and cruncy by liking me to discover more. All you need is a minute a day to explore the world’s marvels through the phenomenon of food!
photos: in order – depositphotos/heinteh; shalamov; electropower; xx; fanfon; keerati