Good Hot Cereal II: Rice Revelations


Sorry… there are only *so many* inspiring images about hot cereal

Part I of this series is here.


This is a continuation of my wildly popular post (found here) about the proper way to make gluten-free hot cereal without tears, avoiding most of the volcanic/inedible pitfalls along the way.  One still has to experiment, but I provide tips and tricks to (we hope) avoid the worst mishaps and waste.

In our last post, we focused mostly on gluten free oats.  Frankly, however, one can take those principles and apply them to many different cereals/berries/etc.(FYI buckwheat is technically a berry, as is I think quinoa and ameranth. Technically grains only grow on grasses.)

Today, I want to ruminate about rice. Which can be nice– if you know what you are doing.  For the record, I’m only addressing brown rice farina, because Cream of (white) Rice is fairly straight forward.  You will massively over-cook it if you try to treat it like the brown variety… unless you are trying to make congee– or paste.

Like GF oats, they have a tendency to stay gritty, rock hard, or stick to each other like glue and clump at the bottom of the bowl.  Ironically, though it is harder fall into the lump trap with rice grits than, say cream of wheat, it is more difficult to save to save once it lumps up.

With wheat, you can just stir in some water before it cools then nuke it again, then stir it like crazy and keep your fingers crossed. That technique does NOT work for gravy, but that’s because of the polymer action of the fats in the meat juices which complicate matters.   Furthermore, because of it’s shape, the bonds are looser (that is, there’s less stuff bonding and more stuff being dead weight),  you can let water  just be the universal solvent and the heat break things apart after a good stirring.

Regular cream of rice behaves remarkably similarly to here, except you have a greater chance of success– unless you’ve over-cooked the whole mess and it’s just badly executed congee.  But frankly, that would be hard to do unless you were trying… or forgot about it for an extended period… say overcooked by at least 10-15 minutes.

With Brown Rice though,  you can’t have real lumps, until the grain itself has softened. This is because it is the bran oils and stuff that makes the rice brown that, when broken down a bit,  is sticky and bonding. And it is, in some dimensions,  sterner stuff than gluten.

For example, they make it into a serious glue in Asian countries that reminds me of rabbit skin glue.  I know that glue is not your your favorite thing to associate with breakfast, but bear with me– it’s relevant for cooking.  Kinda sorta. At least I’m avoiding my father’s stories from Med school that he used to tell at the dinner table. 😉

In the old days, here in the US, the only way to make a permanent glue was to use the skins of various animals– from horses, to rabbits, to fish.  That’s because of the polymerizing effects of the lipids, which is what brown rice manages, too. It also is resistant to incursion. This is also true with the cooked down brown rice bran that makes the majority of the glue. For this reason a cooked down rice bran paste was used as a dye blocker for Okinawan dye patterns. This gives you an idea of just how dense the bonds are, that something as tenacious as permanent dye just can’t penetrate, even after hours of soaking.

But as any expert in natural fabric dye will tell you– it takes time to achieve, and the right temperature to break down. So what does that have to do with hot brown rice cereal, save adding an exotic reference and a squick factor?  I’m glad you asked!

As you may know already, the biggest sin with Brown Rice farina is that horrible grit at the back of your throat, or that chip off your enamel when you bite down. Even after six minutes at power level 6 in my microwave, even though the hot mess is nice and thick… it still is generally gritty.

That’s why you need to turn up the power to 8 after four or five minutes– to relax the protective brown rice coating that is preventing the liquid penetrating into the deep pale and starchy center where the fluffy and el dente texture of properly cooked farina comes from. This is true, no matter what grains or berries you mix with it. You have to add more water, also, which is why a lot of recipes with BR farina often advise more water than even the GF oatmeal recipes do.

Because you want there to be water left over for the starchy center, long after the  hull has done it’s hygroscopic dance. If you work with brown rice syrup at all, you know what I’m talking about. It’s possibly more hygroscopic than honey, and at least seems stickier and harder to manage. At least honey does a civilized job of drizzling off the honey server. IF you try using one with brown rice syrup, you either get a speed to fast to control, or it just sits there, quiescent. IT is harder to mix with some things, too, and sometimes heat is your only answer.

Also, to prevent the clumping problems, you have to keep stirring it, even from relatively early. I mean, you can wait for up to three minutes in power level 6, but at power level 8 you are looking at more like every minute or so.

The other tricky thing is that this rice bran can be moody, depending on the moisture in the air where it is stored, and how old the grain is. This is why I have that little extra time at power level 6 after the time at power level 8. In some instances you need that extra time to work  so the bran based materials will loosen to allow more moisture into the starch granule. It is also there because if you were just to have it stay at power level eight it would cause major lava overflow.

I bet you someone like Dave Arnold could get all scientific about it, but I haven’t read any real studies. I can just tell you that it would seem that the older the grain is, and the drier the grain is, the longer it would take to cook.   This is just being based on my extensive experience cooking rice, brown rice and   brown rice farina. YMMV.

So one of the secrets to success is to make sure that the grain smells a bit on the sweet side before you start to cook it.  If it smells even a little bit off– look out. It might not soften at all.  Why? Because once the oils in the hull have gone bad, you know that it’s pretty old, or has been stored improperly.  If that by itself doesn’t gross you out, it probably won’t cook up right either.

My understanding is, that they made the glue out of grain that had already gone bad– Or was old enough to have gone bad but hadn’t quite yet, or something tricky like that. The dye blocker was not, it was milled off the white rice and cooked separately to make the blocker. It was possibly aged first, or dried out a bit in a kiln, but not so much that it would become inert hard granules for penitential monks to kneel on.  Don’t want that same grit in your cereal, then don’t nuke old farina.

Common sense suggests that farina has a shorter shelf life than whole brown rice, because a larger surface area which allows for a greater oxidation rate of the oils in the granules. I tend to store most of my stuff in the freezer, at least the stuff I’m storing for a while.

As a rough guide line, don’t keep  Brown Rice farina on the shelf for more than six months*, or in the deep freeze for more than a year.  These are probably big sloppy numbers, but frankly, I just don’t store brown rice for long term. I use the same guidelines for brown rice proper; they are probably too generous. But I have never had brown rice farina around for more than a few months anyway.    If it smells funny, I toss it out.

*This rule does not apply to vacuum packed rice. That will last several years if the package is sealed.

Still, be careful when you do open it, and make sure that it smells right.  Believe me, you will know if it doesn’t. It has this chemical funkiness mingled with that stale peanut smell that is hard to forget, even in minute quantities.  Even Husband can detect it at 30 paces, and he will admit that his smeller is not as sensitive as some.

So let’s talk about storage.  I cut the bag, put the majority of it into a jar (so the moisture tends to concentrate on the outside of the jar, not on the inside for some reason) then put it in the freezer. Peanut butter jars, the big plastic kind work for this, as do those plastic, screw-top jar like containers used for storing protein powder.  I also use re-use pickle jars or especially the kind that the red cabbage comes in.  What I have left over sits in a different sort of jar on the shelf (though in the bag) to be used as needed.

When the time comes, I just move what’s in one jar to another, and this seems to avoid the pitfalls to storing things in bags in the freezer.  Sure, bags stack and store easier, but I think the grain is less likely to be unevenly moisturized in a jar.

So, now I get to share with you my most recent recipe for hot cereal!  It is not exclusively brown rice farina, and besides I give a formula for that in my last post on the subject. However, I like the balance between body and creaminess, and it gives you plenty of fiber. So, without further ado…

Margo’s Quinoa, Oat Bran, coconut and Brown Rice Cereal

Makes about 2 servings– or one if you are really hungry. I don’t think it scales down well serving-wise, so if you are cooking for one, just store in the fridge until tomorrow, and heat up with a bit of your milk of choice, extended with protein powder, &c.

  • 1/8 cup of puffed quinoa (or amaranth, or millet)
  • 2 tablespoons of GF oat bran    (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 tablespoons of Brown Rice Farina    (I use mostly Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1.5 tablespoons, or 4 teaspoons of small flake, dry, unsweetened coconut (aka macaroon coconut, though any small flake will do)  I find mine in a Middle Eastern grocery
  • 1 1/3 cup of water
  • 1 generous pinch of salt (I used fleur de sel because I like to show off– and it tastes good)

But all the dry ingredients (except salt!) in the large glass bowl.  Mix well with your fingers, then add the water. Stir until well combined. Let sit on the counter for about a minute, then stir again and pop into the microwave.  Program for 7 minutes on power level 6, then 3 minutes on power level 8, then two minutes on power level 6.

Stop after the first three minutes and stir–well.  After about five minutes you will see it move as one body. Let it go until it starts to froth visibly, then stop. It should be about 30 seconds to a minute before the bump up to power 8.  Stir–well. Take your time and make sure it is well combined before continuing, and keep in mind from here on out you will need to keep more of an eye on it.

You will know when it’s done when it starts frothing up the edges of the bowl, and threatens to boil over. Stir again and let run for another 30 seconds.

Clear the microwave timer and let sit for two minutes. On the way out of the microwave, sprinkle the salt on it and give a stir.  Add your favorite toppings     and additives. Enjoy!


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