Eggs may be the ideal test food for skillets, but grains put saucepans through their paces. Starchy foods like rice, oats, pearly barley, and pasta always tend to get sticky, but everything from type of pot to temperature to water-to-grain ratio can also make them stick or even burn onto the cooking pot. This can leave you not just with a gummy meal but also with a gummy mess to clean up.
So as I’m testing cookware this month, I’m cooking lots of grains. All of them want a fun, flavorful addition, whether it’s stirred in or piled on top, like this week’s new recipe.
Plenty of techniques help you reduce the stickiness of grains—to themselves and to the pot they’re cooked in. Depending on the type of grain you’re using, you may want to rinse or toast it first, adjust the grain-to-liquid ratio, and dial down the heat. Some grains, like Arborio rice, cook best when stirred frequently; others, like basmati rice and instant couscous, should get a quick stir when they make contact with boiling water and then sit untouched as they steam. An undisturbed rest period once the grains are off the heat generally helps remaining moisture soak in. But your choice of pot can make a difference too.
Choosing a Pot
When cooking grains on a stovetop, you can’t go wrong with a heavy-bottomed pot that evenly distributes heat. For grains that steam, you’ll want a tight-fitting lid with little to no venting. But even then, an old, well-worn pot might cause you problems. If you’re using all the right techniques and still scraping rice or oatmeal from a scratched and dented pot, it might be time for an upgrade.
My 20-year-old hard-anodized saucepans met the heavy-bottom and tight-lid criteria. But even with all my best rice-cooking techniques for steaming rice and open-kettle techniques for simmering hot cereals, a gooey residue always adhered some cooked grains firmly to the pan bottom. All of my grain tests in nonstick pots have been a vast improvement over my old saucepans. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:
- Pot thickness. A heavy-bottom pot is still key to even heating, whether steaming or simmering. It even helps moderate temperature during the postcooking rest period. If your grains are burning, reach for a thicker pot next time.
- Pot size. Although you can often squeak by with a smaller saucepan than the recommended size for any batch of grains, you’ll almost always get a stickier result. When you can, err on the side of a bigger pan.
- Lid tightness. A tight lid keeps steam and heat in the pot, where it can stabilize for consistent cooking. I’m finding that pans with a small gap designed for steam release cook rice and other steamed grains just as well as ones with tight-fitting lids. But a large gap, especially one created by a lid left intentionally loose, can make grains stick.
- Temperature control. It’s far easier to control heat on my new gas range than my old glass-top electric one. Actually, the gas burners are almost too powerful when cooking grains for two; they’re likely to boil over in any pot but especially in a small one. If your grains are sticking, avoid cracking the lid. Instead, drop the temperature to the lowest setting, move the pot to a smaller burner, or shift the grains to a larger pot.
Twice as Tasty
- Russian Kasha
- Buckwheat Porridge with Mushrooms and Eggs
- Pan-Fried Tofu
- Warm Quinoa and Feta Salad
- Red Beans and Rice
- Paneer Tikka Masala
- Last-Minute Risotto
- Fresh Improv Stir-Fry
I’ve also been steaming rice for sushi and a range of curries. Here’s one of my springtime favorites, when mangoes are readily available even in Montana and my first sorrel leaves are big enough to cut.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 main ingredients plus some spices.
1. Cook the sweet potato.
2. Stir in and cook the onion and ginger.
3. Add the curry powder and mango and enjoy.
Curried Sweet Potato and Mango
1 small yellow onion (about 1/2 cup when sliced)
1 honey (Ataulfo) mango (about 1 cup when chopped)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed (optional)
1-1/2 teaspoons grated gingerroot
1 teaspoon curry powder, or to taste
salt to taste
chopped cilantro or sorrel for garnish
lime slices (optional)
Peeled and cut the sweet potato into 1-inch cubes. Sliced the onion into crescents, and peel and cut the mango.
In a medium or large sauté pan, melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, if desired. When the seeds begin to pop and dance, add the sweet potato cubes and cook, stirring often, for 10–12 minutes, until tender and golden on all sides. Add the onion and ginger and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the curry powder, salt, and mango; stir well to coat the sweet potato cubes. Cook 1–2 minutes to heat through; adjust the seasonings to taste.
Serve over steamed rice or arugula, garnishing with cilantro or sorrel and lime slices if desired. Serves 2.
Tips & Tricks
- There are plenty of substitution options for this recipe: yams or potatoes, various onion varieties or even leeks, part of a larger Tommy Atkins mango, and other fresh herbs like basil. When in doubt, use what’s at hand and in season.
- If you’re a fan of the bursts of flavor in Potato–Mushroom–Spinach Curry, add the whole seeds to the pan. For a simpler recipe, just leave them out. Depending on the strength of your curry powder, particularly a fresh homemade one, you may want to adjust the spiciness.
- This recipe, served over steamed rice, is one of my staples for sailing or front-country camping. At home, I often skip the grains and serve it over a bed of freshly harvested arugula, spinach, or mixed greens.
My new cookbook has plenty of tasty treats to serve with curry, from Yellow Plum and Lavender Chutney to Pickled Mango. Get a signed copy of The Complete Guide to Pickling to fill your shelves and fridge with vinegar and fermented pickles, chutneys, hot sauces, salsa, and more. At the same time, pick up the The Pickled Picnic to learn how to use pickles and leftover brine in a range of recipes. Click here to order.