Written by Sarah Hamilton.
Photos by James Creange.
A watched pot never boils, or so my grandma always said. And yet I watch. Intently, wooden spoon in hand, eagerly waiting for just the right moment to lift the lid and discover whether or not my third batch of rice has been cooked to perfection. Or let’s be honest, even not crunchy will do at this point. I wish I had Superman’s vision to see into that elusive pot.
But it is only a pot of rice, you say. An ancient grain grown for thousands of years. Cooked in pots made from metal, stone, and clay around fires, stoves and kitchens through all generations of time. Used in every culture on the planet. But somehow this little grain is making me question why I came to culinary school in the first place. Maybe I’m not cut out to be a chef if I can’t even make one little pot of rice.
So, I hold my spoon and dip my thermometer into the water to get it to the scientifically perfect temperature and I hold my breath. And I watch my pot. I glance repeatedly at my little white timer and have an argument with myself whether or not to lift the lid. I watch in horror as my classmates leave the stove one by one, and I am the last one standing. They have all moved on to the next recipe, yet here I stand. No matter, I think, so long as this batch works.
Tick, tick, tick, my timer drones on endlessly. I can think about nothing but the metal pot in front of me and the roar of the tiny fire below it. At last, the moment of truth and a failure of epic proportions. A gummy, sticky mess to present to the chef. I already know the look he will make when he tastes it as I carry my plate past knowing eyes and sympathetic glances.
Final score. Rice 3. Me 0. Utterly defeated.
The next day in class, I’m grateful for a fresh start, a new day. And guess what? We are making our first constructed plate. Beautifully seared salmon with a pineapple mango salsa on a bed of, you guessed it, rice. NOOO I want to scream! But I put on my big girl apron and head to the kitchen.
Today I don’t have time to just watch that pot boil. There is so much to do! So, I start my rice on the stove and get to work on chopping and prepping the rest of the meal. And somehow, some way, when I open my lid, it is the most glorious rice I have ever seen.
It turns out grandma was right! A watched pot never boils, and I didn’t want that anyway. Everyone knows rice is just a simmer.