So you run to Safeway, Publix, or whatever your local chain is and spend $100 on short ribs, fennel, mushrooms you can't even pronounce, and enough fresh herbs and greenery to reenact Jumanji only to realize that the recipe to make that fancy dish requires butchering skills and cooking techniques only professional chefs would be comfortable whipping out. What now?
Yeah, that extravagant crown rib roast, lobster soufflé mac and cheese, and crème brûlée look all sexy and fancy, but pump the brakes a bit. I would not recommend diving in to something that fancy before knowing the basics - things like cooking rice, pasta, and oatmeal, the topic of this post.
Now hear me out before you start running away to some other blog like Comfy & Comfier, A Scientist Cooks, or an equally awful named blog such as mine to find something sexier than tips on making pasta. If you nail these basics, you have the foundation to build quick and easy meals that you can make during the week, on the weekends for dates, or even big events like parties. Think of it like this - you want to introduce a three year old to Dr. Seuss before handing them a copy of the New Yorker.
So don't open another tab just yet on your browser just yet. Let's take a quick dive into making these staples.
Before I go too deep - yes, I know those are potatoes and not oatmeal in the intro picture. I'm working with free for reuse images. Cut me some slack!
Like I was saying, I want to focus on three common starches that you will likely be cooking to feed yourself and others: Rice, Pasta, and Oatmeal. Now the instructions on the packages of these will provide a generally good sense of cooking them properly, so this will focus more on the tips and tricks to keep in mind if you go beyond just the basics.
One of the biggest and most common problems I see when people try and cook rice is they don't wash it enough. What do I mean by washing? Well, when rice is processed and is packaged, there is a ton of excess starch on the outside of every single little grain. If you don't wash your rice enough or at all, you often end up with a pot of gluey, super sticky rice which isn't appetizing texture-wise, appearance-wise, or anything-wise for that matter.
The video below captures what you should do for any white rice. Just remember, wash, drain, repeat until the water turns mostly clear.
I've said it before and I will say it again - if you cook rice with any frequency, go ahead and buy yourself a rice cooker. It is the easiest way to consistently cook perfect rice with minimal risk of burning. If you are sticking to the stove top method, follow the directions on the package but add a little less water if you went through the washing process detailed above. The rice absorbed a little water during the washing process and some is stuck to the grains so cut back the recommended amount of water by about 1/4 cup of water per cup of rice. So if you are cooking 1 cup of rice and the bag or box recommends 2 cups of water, cut that back to about 1 and 3/4 cups water.
Well, yes. That is true but there are ways to make it even better, and it all comes down to little things you can do to match what you plan on serving with your pasta.
2. Target Al-Dente - If you are going to be mixing your pasta with a sauce while still on the stove or will be serving and re-heating your pasta later (like for meal prep) - cut an extra 2 minutes from the pasta's cooking time. So if the box says 10 minutes for Al-Dente pasta, drain it at 8. Why? If you are going to combine and mix a sauce with your pasta, your pasta will essentially still be cooking in that sauce. That means it will absorb more liquid and continue to soften. If you add Al-dente pasta to a sauce and let it sit, it will continue to absorb more liquid and become overly soft. If that is how you like your pasta then ignore this tip - but if you like nice saucy al-dente pasta, cut down that cooking time.
Tip: If you are not mixing your pasta and sauce while still on the stove, like just putting marinara on cooked spaghetti while on the plate, then skip this step and cook to box directions.
3. Don't Rinse Your Pasta - I won't bother going too in depth, but don't rinse your pasta after you drain it. The pasta has starches on the outside that you do not want to wash away by rinsing. It will let sauces stick to it better and make for a more enjoyable eating experience. Trust me, Nona would say the same thing.
4. Use Pasta Water to Loosen Overly Thick Sauces - Say you have some alfredo or meat sauce and you let it sit on the stove a little too much and now it's dry or too thick. Before draining your pasta, thin out your sauce with some of that starchy, salty pasta water. It may seem kind of gross, but it has flavour and the starchy water will loosen up the sauce but the extra starch will help the sauce stick to the pasta.
1. Don't be afraid of overcooking - Oatmeal as a whole grain is unusually hearty compared to rice and pasta. So while the oatmeal can may say to cook or simmer for 3-5 minutes, don't be afraid to cook it 10, 15, or even 20 minutes. Just be careful not to burn it, but the longer you cook your oats, the more tender it will become. Unlike rice however, it won't just disintegrate into paste so easily.
2. Think Beyond Breakfast - Ever had savory oatmeal? Probably not. Most people have not and many probably find the idea of it strange. But think of it this way - oatmeal is a grain just like any other - rice, pasta, couscous. Why shouldn't we try it with some savory twists?
Try this the next time you want a quick dinner. It's an Oatmeal twist on the Classic Asian Rice Porridge or Congee.
- Chicken Broth
- Soy Sauce
- Sesame Oil
- Green Onion
- Fried Egg
- Sautéed Greens (Spinach, Kale, etc)
- Salt, Pepper, and Imaginative Extras to Taste
- Cook your favorite oatmeal according to the box directions but use chicken broth instead of water. Simmer extra for a softer texture.
- Add a splash of soy sauce to taste right before serving and mix it in before transferring to a serving bowl
- Top with some sautéed spinach or other leafy green and a fried egg. Drizzle just a tiny bit of sesame oil over that once you are done and add a sprinkle of green onion or other toppings to your liking.
Cheers, You have a bowl of Asian comfort food that only took you maybe minutes to make and would normally take over 1-2 hours if made with rice.
The point of this post isn't to teach you how to make rice, pasta, or oatmeal more than it's a few tips on how to make it better or to make you consider things you may not have before. At the end of the day, knowing how to cook basics like these 3 will go a long way in making cooking more enjoyable and bring you closer to tackling even the fanciest of recipes.