Food:The paddy factor

Three rice dishes that won't leave you unstuck; Perhaps one day I will buy one of these handy kitchen aids to cook rice, but it is not, how shall I say, high on my list of must-have items. We have sushi bars for eating sushi in
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It is not easy to cook nice rice. I have had soggy messes, starchy and pudding-like risottos, hard kernels all over the place, and rice plain boiled and waterlogged. But perhaps I shouldn't say that, for fear of sounding patronising or off-putting. I remember some years ago a friend gave me an ancient English cookery book that informed the timid reader that French mayonnaise was a most time-consuming and tricky sauce to make and that to guarantee success, considerable care should be lavished on the ingredients and manufacture thereof. (The book should have been called Masochistic Recipes That Will Never Work, From a Victorian Kitchen.)

For every kind of rice that you can buy, there is a different cooking method. Some are meant to stay sticky and starchy, such as Thai fragrant rice and Japanese sushi rice, which needs the adhesion for moulding into the familiar lozenge shape. I have always found these the trickiest rices, but I am told that an electric steamer solves all problems - you measure the rice and water, pop it into the steamer, switch it on and cook it for a specific length of time. Perhaps one day I will buy one of these handy kitchen aids, but it is not, how shall I say, high on my list of must-have items just now. We have sushi bars for eating sushi in.

Thai fragrant rice makes a nice bowl of starch. It goes splendidly with a fiercely aromatic green curry, not least because it will mollify the fire raging in your mouth. Its texture is unusually dense, almost fudgy, and the flavour is particularly ricey, steamy and, well, fragrant. But it is not really something to try on its own; wait until you want to delve into the exotica of Thai cooking before you cook this rice, otherwise you are in for a dull old time.

More to the point, here are some rice dishes that are complete in themselves: a pilau, a sort of fish risotto made with an Italian easy-cook rice, and a neglected rice pudding dish with fruit, sometimes called Conde.

Chicken liver pilau, serves 4

It is good to cook the pilau in the pot you are going to serve it in: from stove top, to oven and then finally to table (a lidded Le Creuset, or similar, is ideal). You need not serve anything else with this dish.

1 tbsp olive oil

400g/l4oz fresh chicken livers, trimmed of ragged bits but left whole

55g/2oz butter

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

310g/11oz basmati rice (Tilda brand is good), washed and drained thoroughly

4 cloves

4 cardamom pods

12 stick cinnamon

14 tsp dried chilli flakes

12 tsp saffron threads

450ml/16fl oz chicken stock

1 heaped tbsp currants

4 pieces lemon rind

salt and pepper

2 tbsp flat-leafed parsley, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Heat the olive oil in the pot until smoking. Add the chicken livers in a single layer and briefly fry on each side for seconds only; they must still be raw inside. Lift out and put to cool on a plate. Add the butter to the pot and fry the onions and garlic until golden. Tip in the rice and gently stew for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, until the rice glistens with the butter. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, chilli and saffron and stir. Pour in the stock and bring up to a simmer. Add the currants and lemon rind, taste the liquid and then season with salt and pepper. Simmer very gently, until the mixture starts to become more of a slurry. Now put in the chicken livers and carefully bury them underneath the rice. Switch off the heat, put the lid on and place in the oven. Remove after 20 minutes, but don't take off the lid for a further ten minutes (this allows the rice to finish cooking). Gently fluff up the rice with a fork and spoon, mixing in the parsley as you go. Serve straightaway.

Smoked haddock risotto, serves 4

I shouldn't really be calling this risotto at all, as the rice is not the true arborio, nor is the method of cooking the same. Rather, it is a sort of pre-fluffed rice, not as fat as arborio, sometimes called super-fino, and available in most Italian delicatessens. In this recipe, it is initially prepared as for a pilau. In fact, this dish could be considered more of a kedgeree than a risotto.

4 large shallots, peeled and chopped

85g/3oz butter

1 tsp turmeric

12 tsp curry powder

200g/7oz super-fino Italian rice

400ml/15fl oz fish stock or light chicken stock

1 bay leaf, torn

450g/1lb naturally dyed smoked haddock fillet, skinned and boned

85ml/3fl oz double cream

1 small bunch chives, snipped

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Using a similar pan as for the pilau, sweat the shallots in 55g/2oz butter until pale golden.

Add the turmeric and curry powder and gently cook for a minute or two. Tip in the rice and allow to cook gently until all the grains are coated with the spiced butter. Now pour in the stock, add the bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cut the smoked haddock into 1cm/half-inch chunks and stir in. Bring back to a simmer, put the lid on and put in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove, and leave the lid on for five minutes. Take the lid off and gently stir the rice with a wooden spoon over a low heat, incorporating the remaining butter and the cream. Check for seasoning and stir in the chives. A fine dusting of Parmesan can be added to the dish at table, but only if you like the combination of fish and cheese.

Caramelised pear Conde, serves 4

Here we have a traditional rice pudding topped with fruit, pears in this case, though peaches are fine too. I happen to love tinned pears and peaches; one of my favourite snacks is a bowl of either, with plenty of Carnation milk, with both fruit and milk cold from the fridge. The Conde should be served warm, but is also good with ice-cold Carnation, creating an altogether different sensation. You can use fresh double cream `

if you are feeling chaste.

55g/2oz butter

55g/2oz caster sugar

100g/312oz round grain rice

1 litre/134 pints milk

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

150ml/14 pint double cream

pinch of salt

4 pear (or peach) halves

12 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/gas mark 1. Melt the butter in a flameproof casserole and add the sugar and rice. Stir around and heat gently until it turns a bit sticky. Continue stirring until the rice looks puffy and has started to turn pale golden. Add the milk, which will seethe, turning the rice/butter/sugar mixture into lumps. Fear not. Feel around with a wooden spoon and disperse the lumps; as the milk heats, it will dissolve them. Scrape the vanilla pod of its seeds and add these to the milk (put the emptied pod into a pot of caster sugar for later use). Add the cream and salt, and bring to the boil. Place in the oven and cook for 3-4 hours, or until just starting to set, but still slightly liquid looking. Leave the pudding to cool to lukewarm, during which time it will finish cooking and set. Preheat an overhead grill to its highest setting.

Drain the pears from their syrup and pat dry with paper towels. Slice very thinly and arrange neatly over the pudding. Sieve the icing sugar over the fruit, then put the dish under the grill to caramelise and blister somewhat. Remove when suitably burnished, rest for five minutes and serve

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