I was planning a visit to my father-in-law this morning, and wanted to take him something he liked. I remembered that he always enjoyed “Riz au lait” or rice pudding, so I thought it would be nice to make him some today. It took about 40 minutes to make and I took it over while it was still warm and creamy. He was very happy as it had been a while since he had eaten this. I know that it’s not the lightest of foods, but rice pudding is one of those lovely comfort foods which evokes all types of memories. For me, I think of my mother. She loves rice pudding or “rice pap” as they say in Guyana. Every so often, she would cook up big pot after school. We would be drawn to the kitchen by the smell of spices like cinnamon and vanilla simmering on the stove in a pot of creamy rice goodness. I could hardly wait to eat it. It was always a treat and I especially loved the plump raisins. Isn’t it amazing how raisins transform from shriveled dried fruit to robust elements of goodness when added to a liquid? For me, this was always the best part of the rice pudding, and I tried to have a good ratio of raisins to rice in my bowl.
I have tasted other rice puddings which use eggs and are baked, but I am not partial to this method. I prefer using the stove top method as it ensures that the rice is cooked properly and is not grainy. Sometimes I make this pudding with coconut milk and it is really delicious but also a lot richer. As it was meant for one who is convalescing, I preferred to keep it simpler and made it with regular milk.
Traditionally this pudding is thought as a “nursery” food and would have been ideally been given to young children for dinner in far different time. I remember reading the Enid Blyton books of my childhood and immersing myself in British culture of a bygone era. Her vivid depiction of an age when children had governesses and nurses; who assumed the role of mothers and cared for the children under their charge in a “Mary Poppins” fashion. They would probably have been given a rice pudding of a somewhat blander English version.
My take on Creamy Rice Pudding is a comfort food enhanced with the warming spices and brown sugar with which I grew up. This always takes me back to Guyana and reminds me of my childhood in Greenfield Park, Providence.
CREAMY RICE PUDDING
1 cup long grain rice
4 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick or a pinch of ground cinnamon
3 whole cloves or a pinch of ground cloves
1 star anise, whole * optional
1 vanilla bean sliced lengthwise and the seeds removed or 1 tsp good vanilla extract
A bit of freshly grated nutmeg
A piece of lime or lemon rind
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole evaporated milk
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup raisins *optional
In a large heavy pot, pour the water and add whole spices, salt and rice. Stir together well.
Cook on high heat until it comes to a rapid boil. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking until the rice begins to soften. About 15 minutes.
When the rice has softened but is still not completely cooked, add the evaporated milk, sugar, and lime rind. Stir well to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add the raisins if using.
Lower the heat to a medium-low and continue cooking; stirring often. The pudding will begin to thicken at this point, so you need to keep stirring often so as to avoid burning the bottom layer.Add the butter and vanilla essence if using and mix well. If the liquid dries out and the rice is not fully cooked, add some more water (or a mixture of evaporated milk and water). This stage should take about 15 mins.
The rice pudding is done when the rice is completely cooked and most of the liquid absorbed. The pudding should be creamy textured and slightly wet. Remove the dried whole spices and lime peel before serving. Rice pudding may be served warm or cold. As the pudding cools, the texture will become more solid. You may prefer to serve with a pitcher of milk alongside should some prefer a more liquid texture.
You should cover the hot rice pudding with plastic wrap. This ensures that a crust does not form on the surface. The pudding may be reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop. Add a little milk or water to moisten.