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Food Fiend!

By K.T. Keller

HOW TO GET THE ‘WATER’ OUT OF YOUR PASTA,

RICE, AND POTATOES


I’m a foodie – a lover of food – the eating, the cooking, the sharing. I enjoy dining out, critiquing, food shopping, creating, tasting, and testing, and amassing gastronomic knowledge and skill in an endless learning curve. However, cooking is not my day job. Like you, I’m also a parent, spouse, part-time bookkeeper, full-time diabetic, amateur nutritionist, a teacher, a student, occasional caterer, carnivore, vegetable lover, and thief! You see, I have recipe envy. To my ever-growing cookbook collection are added culinary gems from friends, coworkers, neighbors, and in-laws, from people I meet on subway platforms and airplanes. They all eventually reveal the secret of Aunt Dorothea’s killer clam ‘chowdah’ or Grandpa Juno’s pillowy chili rellenos with their ‘shh . . . secret sauce.’ No reunion, church supper, or potluck is safe. I’m relentlessly gathering, foraging, seeding and harvesting; ever imitating, ever inventing.

Like you, my pursuit of flavor and technique is blessed to cross borders, now and then. Having ‘et’ my way through New York City and Los Angeles, and sampled ‘road food’ and local fare from Canada to the Carolinas, New England to Mexico, to Hawaii, to Hong Kong, Macau, and London (Oh, to be reborn as Fannie Farmer or MFK Fisher!) I tasted everything they put in front of me. Those flavors, smells, and textures fixed in my mind and inspired new cooking ideas at home.


Like you, perhaps, I swoon a little at food shows on TV from the early Julia Child series to FOOD TV and more recent ‘reality’ hits like Gordon Ramsey, and I still listen to food radio like Melinda Lee (45 years on the air!) and The Fork Report.


Epicurean pleasures are meant to be enjoyed and shared. Nothing pleases me more than enlivening someone’s palate with a dish I’ve created. It gives me greater satisfaction than eating. And I love eating! Food challenges thrill me, too – cooking for holidays, camping, grilling competitions, cooking up game meats, creating a dish when there is “nothing” in the cupboard, cooking veggies that even carnivores and junk food junkies really enjoy, church chili contests, food storage cook-offs. I have had as many failures as wins, believe me. Upscaled our favorite green chili casserole, and left out the green chilis . . . Doh! Served my hungry kids cinnamon toast one morning made with salt instead of sugar . . . Whammy! Repeatedly ruined my best chocolate mousse with lofty ‘Abuelita’ ambitions . . . Bzzzzt! Yet, failures can be learning opportunities. I concocted and discarded almost a dozen tasty cheesecake toppings in pursuit of “the One” to enhance my real (no-graham crackers, please) New York cheesecake. My tangerine cheesecake, kettle corn, ‘live rice,’ banana spare ribs, pancit bihon, scalloped potatoes, veggie ribbons, and London broil never fail to impress.

And do I shy away from sharing my recipes? Nope. I have no trouble sharing, no fear someone will run away with my secrets. Why? Because nobody will make it just like me. I’m a stay up-all-night-basting perfectionist and culinary mess maker. Every pot and bowl gets used. We’re all different. As cooks, each of us is unique in our own kitchen. Each with our own creative spark. I believe that truly. As I try to teach my own kids (now teenagers) to cook, I encourage it. Find your flair with food! Do what makes you special. Hone your skills and make your own mark. That’s what I do. Experiment, tweak, learn from mistakes, then try again, do something new. Risk, improve, explore, discover.


It is that willingness to experiment and explore that led me to find out how to get the most flavor and texture out of boiled starches. So, how DO you get the taste of water out of your pasta, potatoes, and rice? Well, what happens when we cook starches in water? We add heat. The cells expand and react by softening under wet pressure and the water gets inside. Pasta and rice tend to swell up, while potatoes soften and absorb. The end result of this process during cooling is the cells close, and the water stays inside the food.

Maxim: No sauce, spice, or seasoning will mask the taste of H2O hiding in your starches cooked in plain water. Your sauce may be spectacular, but each bite gets diluted by the empty flavor of water hiding in each noodle, potato, and grain of rice – reducing the power and overall satisfaction. Your cooking deserves better.

Simple Solution: Salt your water . . . (But - all the way!)

PASTA – People are shocked to see me salt water for pasta. My fist emerges from the canister tightly closed around as much salt as I can possibly grasp. I throw it ALL in the simmering pot. Pasta water should have about 2 teaspoons of salt per quart/litre of water. And you’d need a minimum of 3 quarts for 1 pound of short pasta like ziti or radiatore (that’s 2 Tbl of salt). Most of us use more water, 4 to 5 quarts for longer pasta like spaghetti or fettuccine. Remember, with pasta you measure the salt by how much water is used, not by the weight of the pasta. 5 quarts of water need 3 tablespoons of salt, plus a good pinch more in my opinion. [Attn! If you’ve been advised to reduce your salt intake, please listen to your healthcare advisor and not to me.]

POTATOES – Spuds operate on the same principle but add them whole (unless you’re in a big hurry) to cold water. And rinse the skins well beforehand. Remember, whatever goes in the water, including dirt, will enter the potato flesh and stay there. Wash them first. I use Yukon Gold for buttery flavor with a big russet or two for fluffiness. For salinity, 1 Tablespoon per pound of potatoes (not based on the amount of water) will do. A medium potato fits in your hand at about half a pound. Use enough water to cover the potatoes in the pot and no more.

RICE – For rice we must water and salt differently. Unlike pasta and potatoes, the water does not get poured down the drain. All the water and all the salt will end up inside the rice. The amount of water is fixed precisely to the volume of uncooked rice. So, we salt based on the amount of rice (not the amount of water).

Years back, I grew so annoyed by the bland, plain-water taste of most take out rice that I started tweaking and experimenting. We’d switched from longer grain to short grain Calrose rise for its sweet flavor and unctuous bite. I added this and that, and kept fine tuning until one day my family said “Stop” it was the best rice they had ever eaten. It had balance, it was sticky, and it had life – enough flavor to eat without adding anything, yet not too salty to underpin full-flavored teriyaki or Hungarian goulash. I called it “live rice.”

I told my younger sister, who was away at college, the story of how I had achieved this amazing new rice recipe. Her roommate was taking a sushi-making class at a local gastro pub. On comparing my method to the one from her class, they were amazed. “But we add sugar to ours . . .” So does he! “But we add vinegar to ours . . .” So does he! “Oil! We add . . .” So does he! Without knowing it, I had – quite on my own — achieved that balance of flavor that makes sushi rice so edible, and for some people, so addictive.

LIVE RICE


1 cup Calrose rice

1-1/2 cups cold water*

a generous 1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon white or rice vinegar

1 Tablespoon neutral oil or butter


Add un-rinsed rise and remaining ingredients to saucepan and stir a few times. Heat over medium high until tiny streams of bubbles seethe to the surface consistently. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.* Rice should be sticky enough to stand heaped on a spoon or fork (and taste like rice instead of water).

*Ina Garten’s method works well for this. It takes less time, and leaves the rice slightly al dente, which we enjoy. If you prefer it more tender, use 2 cups of water per cup of rice and cook covered for 20 minutes. If you like it less sticky, rinse the rice until the water comes through completely clear before adding to the cooking pot.


For Next Time:

These articles will be coming once a month going forward. Feedback and comments are most welcome. I’d love to know what food topics interest you. I still have kids at home. Still cook on a budget working full time. As a new diabetic, I’ve explored Keto and Carnivore diets. We keep food storage that needs using up as it ages out. I still cater occasionally for friends. Still put my cheesecake up for youth group fund raisers. This December we’ll do a High Tea (vegetarian) for 30+ guests at Milo’s animal sanctuary in the Mojave Desert. Let me know what your food dreams, fears, adventures, and accomplishments have been. There’s a lot we can share. And I hope we do.


Until then, fearless cooking, and happy eating!

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4 comentarios


Shelley Colton
Shelley Colton
02 nov 2022

Thank you! Question: You talk about boiling potatoes whole. How would you salt/prepare/ cook potatoes for hash browns, mashed potatoes and potatoes for creamy potato soup?

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K.T. Keller
K.T. Keller
11 nov 2022
Contestando a

Okay, okay. Glad you asked! Yes, boiling potatoes whole is the way for those ultimate mashed potatoes, if you own a real ricer and will expend the effort go down that road. And, of course, for New England Boiled Dinner or potato salad, whole cooking really is essential. But we've all been in that moment where we have 25 minutes to get it all on the table. You peel and dice and boil away for 9 minutes. Quick mash. Who's to know? I like fluffy potatoes that stand up to gravy, (just a bit lumpy, or smooth if that's your thing) where you can really taste the potato. I also enjoy skin on mashed for that rustic kitsch. It's a…


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Miembro desconocido
25 oct 2022

Excited to try to make "Live Rice." I have ended up with many burn't discs of rice in the bottom of a sauce pan. You make it sound easy. I am willing to try again.

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K.T. Keller
K.T. Keller
11 nov 2022
Contestando a

You know that will happen to any of us now and then.


Burned is burned and scorched is scored. When it happens to me, I scrape it into the garbage (or compost) and start again. Luckily it's only 15 minutes more instead of 20.


As for accidentally 'browning' the bottom bit of rice, there are small elements that can influence this. The surface tension of water in your measured cup as you take it from the source to the pan, and did you measure it once in a larger cup or measure several cupfuls one at a time. How low is "low" or "simmer" on your particular stove, or with the turn of your hand when you set the heat…


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