Rice feeds much of the world. And it feeds me, too. At the moment, I have no fewer than six varieties in my home pantry: long‑grain white basmati, long‑grain brown basmati, medium‑grain all‑purpose, short‑grain rose rice, short‑grain Arborio, and wild rice. (Wild rice isn’t a true rice, by the way — though the taxonomists tell us it’s a “close cousin” of the real thing.) Nor is rice restricted to stay‑at‑home dinners. It also figures regularly in my camp menus. Its mild flavor makes it a good base for stews, chili, and chunky sauces, as well as a versatile side dish. Rice can also be used in carry‑along snacks, either savory or sweet. But don’t be deceived by its self‑effacing character. Rice can stand on its own when it has to, taking the starring role in stick‑to‑your‑ribs meals like risotto or pilaf. It’s at its best when heading an able ensemble cast, however. I’ve auditioned nuts, fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheeses, and meat for these supporting roles, and they’ve all won rave reviews.
None of this would matter if rice weren’t a good traveler, though. Luckily, it is. If you pack it in doubled freezer bags and keep it dry, it won’t spoil, even on extended expeditions. And a little goes a long way: When used in a main dish, one cup of dry rice will be enough to satisfy two hungry paddlers. As a side dish, the same amount will feed four.
But rice also has its problems. While a much‑ballyhooed analysis purporting to show grossly elevated levels of lead in rice has now been “cast into doubt,” concerns remain about arsenic. That being the case, what’s a cautious paddler to do? I vary my diet and hope for the best. Others will decide to eschew rice altogether — and then wait anxiously to learn what poisons lurk in other staple foods. A more or less constant stream of bad news on this score is inevitable. There are tens of millions of new mouths to feed in the world every year, and nobody’s making more land. Which means that intensive industrial agriculture is increasingly the norm. Moreover, ours is now a global food economy. The task of inspecting the resulting flood tide of industrial eatables as it surges around the world is daunting. Yet with very few exceptions, the appetite for government regulation in all areas of life is on the wane. You don’t need to be a weatherman to see which way this wind is blowing.
Such Big Issues aside, rice has two other, lesser drawbacks. It takes a long time to cook from scratch: between 15 minutes and one hour. And it needs constant attention. It’s often been said that a watched pot never boils, but it would be far more accurate to say that an unwatched rice pot always boils over. No camp cook is going to rejoice at the need for constant vigilance, nor will he welcome an hour‑long stint of KP at the end of a hard day. There are plenty of quick‑cooking varieties of rice, of course, and I occasionally make use of easy‑to‑prepare rice and sauce mixes like Knorr Rice Sides. I don’t find them particularly tasty, however, and so‑called instant rice falls short in both nutrition and texture. The flavor leaves much to be desired, too.
The upshot? In the past, when I’ve wanted rice in camp, I’ve usually cooked it from scratch. But that may now be about to change. There’s a new kid on the block: heat‑and‑eat rice… Read more…
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