Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Black Magic Parcel

Riso Nero in Cartoccio con Gamberi & Finocchio
Forbidden Rice Parcels with Shrimp & Fennel

How could I have possibly resisted buying this beautiful black rice? This AND the green rice (yet to come ;-) ) just so different and so enticing! Anything that looks or sounds exotic- that's just the thing for me! So into my bag it went as soon as I saw it at the Asian market and back home with me it came... to a place where it was kept safe... until this evening!

This unusual Chinese rice, also known as "forbidden rice", was once only enjoyed by the emperors and the nobility- hence the name. Possibly it was so, because they were the only ones who could afford to keep the fires burning long enough to boil the stuff! Haha! No, no- just kidding folks! It does take a little while longer to boil or steam than regular white rice, but by no means as long as brown, "wild rice" takes... and the flavor is so rich, nutty and delicious that it is worth it in any case. And, one more thing... it cost no more than the price of a decent jasmin rice- so it is not going to beak the bank for you to buy it... so go treat yourself! Feel like royalty!

One way to cut down the cooking time of the black, "forbidden rice", is to soak it for an hour or so beforehand- then again, it will only save you 5 minutes or so... but the most important thing to do is to rinse the rice off a couple of times to wash away excess starch which will make it otherwise sticky.

Once I had rinsed the rice off, I popped it into my rice cooker, with twice the amount water as rice, a little salt and a half teaspoon of 5 spice powder. For this single-serving sized parcel, I used around a cup and a half of rice. I let the rice cook for the regular amount of time for white rice- 15 minutes and then cooker went "click", turned itself off- and was still a little too chewy. But that was fine- as I was going to finish it off by baking everything together in the oven... so not to worry!

Whilst the rice was simmering away, I got busy slicing up a few vegetables to fill my parcel. I used 1/2 of a carrot, cut into a fine julienne, 1/2 of a small fennel, cut into thin slices, about 1" worth of ginger, cut into thin slices and a Spring onion cut into thin diagonal slices... easy!

The next thing I did was to prepare a marinade for the shrimp and I made that from a little sweet chili sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, light soy sauce and the juice of 1 lime. I stirred these together and added a good pinch of finely chopped cilantro and a little sugar. Delicious and simple and ready to go!

I turned on the oven to 400°F and got busy wrapping my parcel- starting with the steaming hot rice going onto a sheet of foil first and then followed by the fennel, carrot and onion. The shrimp went on top of that, along with the finely sliced ginger and a decent amount of the marinade- and then the fun began. I folded two opposite sides together first... then folded them over again and once again and began folding the sides back in turn- it really is just like preparing a huge candy-wrapper- but what you do want to do is make the parcels nice and air-tight... so that none of the flavors can escape!

Into the hot oven in went for 10-15 minutes- that is all it took, as the vegetables were all sliced finely and the rice had already cooked for 20 minutes or so as it was. So there is limited work involved, but you all know well enough by now that sometimes the most simple ideas just work wonderfully- especially with wonderful flavors like these!

All that remains to be said is that after 10-15 minutes in the oven, the rice is hot, hot, hot, the shrimp and vegetables are super intense with flavor and the aromas that escape from that little parcel are just amazing! I added a little hot chili sauce and a sprinkle of fresh, fine fennel greens and dinner was served!

Of course, it tasted best straight from the foil, but I thought I would whip up a plated portion for you too. Because the method is really simple and the result is equally delicious whether it is presented in a down-to-earth foil package or served up an an elegant plate, I would say that the choice is yours... and as long as you choose to make it! 

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