Grain of truth: Mark Hix gets creative with rice

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I keep all sorts of different types of rice in my larder, as I'm never sure when I might need a quick handful of red camargue or vialone nano to create a dish. There are countless types of rice available in the shops these days – and each has its own uses and needs to be cooked in a certain way. For example, basmati is far too delicate a rice for making a risotto; don't even try it, or you'll end up with a right old bowl of mush...

Chorizo, broad bean and asparagus rice

Serves 4-6

This is more or less a paella and it can be made with seasonal vegetables such as peas or beans. Slowly cooking the chopped-up chorizo with the onions at the beginning releases all of the oils and spices, which the rice absorbs during cooking.

2 large onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
200g cooking chorizo, halved and chopped into small pieces
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
4tbsp olive oil
120g paella rice
1.5-2ltrs chicken stock
250g asparagus, woody ends removed
100-120g podded weight of broad beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a wide-based pan, gently cook the onion, garlic, chorizo and thyme in the olive oil for 5-6 minutes, stirring every so often. Add the rice and stir on a low heat for a minute or so and season well. Gradually add half of the stock, stirring every so often. Meanwhile, cook the broad beans and asparagus separately in boiling salted water until just tender, then drain and leave to cool a little. Slice the asparagus on the angle into 5 or 6 pieces, then add to the rice with the broad beans and continue adding the stock until the rice is tender. Re-season if necessary and serve immediately.

Coconut rice pudding

Serves 4

A can of coconut milk imparts the most delicious flavour to a simple rice pudding. You can garnish this pudding with toasted or desiccated coconut, or even add some diced-up ripe mango or papaya.

60g pudding rice
800ml-1ltr milk
80g caster sugar
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
2-3tbsp desiccated or shaved coconut

Put the rice, two-thirds of the milk and the sugar in a thick-bottomed saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer gently (preferably on a simmer plate) for about 20-25 minutes – stirring every so often and adding more milk if the rice is getting dry – until the rice is tender. Add half of the coconut milk and continue simmering for a few minutes, then remove from the heat. Add the rest of the coconut milk and stir every so often until the rice is cool. The rice should be a fairly creamy consistency; if not, you can adjust it with a little more milk.

Meanwhile, toast the coconut under the grill until golden. Serve the rice with the toasted or desiccated coconut (and the diced fruit, if desired) scattered over it.

Smoked haddock arancini

Makes 15-20

Risotto is the base for these delicious deep-fried little rice croquettes; in fact, the dish probably originated from leftover risotto. Arancini can be made with all sorts of risottos, from a simple risotto alla Milanese to a creamy mushroom variation.

You can make these into smaller bite-sized pieces for canapés or larger versions for snacks, or as part of an antipasti display.

100g natural smoked haddock
500ml fish stock
A couple of knobs of butter
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
80g carnaroli risotto rice
40g freshly grated parmesan
1tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 80-100g flour for dusting
1 large egg, beaten
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying

Put the haddock in a saucepan with the fish stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes, then transfer the haddock on to a plate and strain the sauce through a sieve. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onion for 2-3 minutes on a low heat, stirring every so often.

Add the rice and stir on the heat for a minute, season, then gradually start adding the stock, a little at a time and stirring every so often, ensuring that each addition of stock has been absorbed before adding the next.

Continue adding the stock until the rice is tender, it should be fully cooked through and quite dry as it needs to stay together when moulded. Stir in the parmesan and parsley and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, remove all of the skin and bones from the haddock and flake the flesh into small pieces and stir into the hot rice once it has cooked; remove from the stove. Re-season the rice if necessary and transfer to a shallow dish to cool, stirring every so often as it is cooling, then transfer to the fridge for an hour or so.

Mould the rice into balls with a diameter of about the size of a 10p piece for canapés (or larger if you wish). Have three dishes ready, one with the flour, the second with the beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Pass the rice balls firstly through the flour, shaking off any excess, then through the egg and finally through the breadcrumbs.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer and fry the arancini a few at a time for 2-3 minutes, turning them with a slotted spoon as they are cooking, until they are golden; then transfer on to some kitchen paper. Serve immediately.

Venison biryani

Serves 4-6

This is not the biryani you would find in your local curry house. Biryani usually gives the impression that it's just leftovers heated up without much love or care. This version makes an impressive dinner party dish – especially if you lift the lid off at the table to reveal the fluffy rice and saffron with all its fragrant spices.

Feel free to use cubes of boneless chicken thighs, instead of lamb or mutton – it would work just as well.

1kg boneless venison from a single joint like the shoulder, cut into rough 3cm cubes
30g fresh ginger, scraped and finely grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2tbsp garam masala
tsp chilli powder
tsp ground turmeric
4 small green, medium heat chillies, chopped
A good pinch of curry leaves
1tsp ground cumin
6 green cardamom pods
4tbsp chopped coriander and mint leaves
500g basmati rice
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
200g ghee or butter
250ml thick natural yoghurt
Pinch of saffron soaked in 2 tbsp hot milk

For the sealing dough

200g wholewheat flour
1tsp salt

Mix the venison in a stainless steel bowl with all the herbs and spices (apart from the saffron). Cover and marinade in the fridge overnight. Wash the rice in a bowl of cold water, until the water is clear; drain. Heat the ghee in a large frying pan. Add the onions and fry for 10 minutes on a medium to high heat, stirring every so often, until they are golden brown. Drain in a sieve over a bowl to reserve the ghee.

Remove the venison and reserve the marinade. Reheat the ghee, reserving a couple of tablespoons for later, then fry the venison, a few pieces at a time, lightly browning them. Transfer the venison into an ovenproof dish with a lid. Add the yoghurt, browned onions and the reserved marinade and cook on a low heat for 1 hours, until the venison is tender, then remove from the heat.

In another pan, bring enough salted water to the boil to cover the rice. Add the rice, stir well and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, drain and spread the rice over the meat. Spoon over the reserved ghee, and saffron-infused milk.

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.

Make the sealing dough by mixing the flour and salt with enough water to form a smooth dough. Roll it out into a sausage shape to fit around the cooking pot. Press the dough around the edges of the pot and press the lid lightly on the dough. Put the pot over a high heat, bring to the boil; transfer to the oven for 40 minutes. Break the dough seal to serve.

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