Friday, March 15, 2013
Belizean Coconut Rice
Traditionally the Creole and Garifuna people of Belize cook their rice with coconut milk. This style of rice making has spread to all the cultural groups in Belize with the happy result that whether you are Maya, Hispanic, Creole, Garifuna, East Indian or even Mennonite, if you are eating rice, chances are high that coconut milk might be in it. Many a rice and beans joint around the country are judged on whether their rice and beans and their white rice are cooked with the right amount and quality of coconut milk.
In Belize the average cook can go to the grocery store and purchase canned or even (gasp) powdered coconut milk, imported from far off places like Taiwan and The Philippines, but the traditional and by far the BEST way to make coconut milk is from scratch.
Never fear, it is not as hard as it may seem! In just ten minutes you can go from coconut in a shell to coconut milk. In Belize we have a variety of graters that are commonly used for coconuts. However, if you have a powerful blender or a food processor, it can do the grating for you. And if all that is laying around the house is a box grater, that'll work too.
First step is to open the coconut. Starting with a husked coconut, set it on a sturdy surface like a counter-top and hit with a hammer along the midriff of the coconut (halfway between the end with the three eyes and the pointy end) until it begins to crack open. Let the coconut water (the off-clear liquid inside) drain into a bowl. Now take a sturdy butter knife or an oyster knife and pry the coconut meat out of the shell. You can at this point grate it on a box grater on the smaller holed side, or you can put it in a powerful blender or food processor along with the coconut water. Blend or process until the meat is in tiny pieces. If you are grating by hand, take the finely grated meat and mix with the coconut water, mashing and blending by hand or with a potato masher, until the water looks milky white. At this stage, whether you are blending, processing or mixing by hand, pour the whole mess into a cloth and squeeze the heck out of it over a bowl until all the white coconut milk comes out.
This stuff is gold. In Belize and across the English speaking Caribbean it is used to cook rice, beans, fish, make bread, season soups and stews and concoct delicious desserts and puddings. But today we are simply going to make rice, the staff of life for more than a billion people across the globe.
When I was a child I learned two ways of making rice-my mother's way and my father's way. My mother's way was to measure out 2 cups of rice and a teaspoon of salt, boil 4 cups of water, then dump in the rice and salt, stir once, let it come to a boil, then simmer on low with the lid on until the rice was done. My father's way was what I call the Belizean way, because he learned his rice-making technique from machete wielding bush-masters in Toledo, the most rural district in Belize. It is the way I always use. Take as much rice as you think you will need (one cup of dry rice is usually enough for two people). Put it in a pot, run water over it and wash the rice, pouring out the water until the water runs clear instead of becoming cloudy with starch. Then put enough coconut milk (or water or broth if you don't want coconut rice) in the pot so that it reaches to the first joint on your index finger when the tip of your finger is touching the rice (this is much simpler than it sounds. Stick your finger in the pot until you touch the rice, and look down. Is the liquid up to the first joint of your index finger? Yes? Ok, you're good).
Put the pot over high heat with the lid off and let it come to a boil. When it has boiled until there is only a little liquid left over the top of the grains (which usually only takes a few minutes), turn the heat down to very low, put the lid on, and let simmer for about 20 minutes (30 for brown rice) until the grains have absorbed all the liquid and are not tough or crunchy when you taste one. Turn off the burner and let the rice sit in the pot with the lid on for another couple minutes before you serve it.