Stir-fried dishes often are accompanied by pasta or rice, and both begin with boiling water.
Hot or cold water?
When boiling water, is it faster to start with hot water? And what is a true boil?
A full boil makes the water as hot as possible — 212 degrees at sea level, with many large bubbles constantly breaking the surface. To speed up the process, many cooks start with water that is hot from the tap, but a few still insist on cold tap water, claiming that it makes a difference to the flavor of food like pasta. To see whether this is really the case, America's Test Kitchen set up a taste test.
The testers brought 4 quarts each of hot and cold tap water to a boil and then added 1 tablespoon salt and 1 pound pasta to each. When the pasta was done, it was drained and tasted plain (no oil, no sauce). Tasters could not discern any difference in flavor. In fact, the only difference was in the time it took the pots to reach a boil — 131/2 minutes for the hot tap water, 15 minutes for the cold.
Before you turn on the hot tap, though, you might want to consider what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has to say about cooking with hot tap water. According to the EPA, water hot from the tap can contain much higher levels of lead than cold tap water. In addition, even cold tap water should be run for a while (until the water is as cold as it can get) to ensure that any lead deposits are flushed out of the system.
Tips for cooking rice
In stir-fry dishes, long-grain white and brown rice work well. Short- and medium-grain rice are good choices for dishes that have a creamier characteristic.
American-grown rice does not need washing or rinsing before or after cooking. Rinsing rice, or cooking rice in excess water and draining, results in loss of water-soluble vitamins and minerals.
It's best to follow the directions on the package, and here are some tips that will help you make perfect rice to go with any dish.
■ Accurately measure rice and liquid.
■ Set timer to prevent undercooking or overcooking.
■ Keep the lid on the pot during cooking to prevent steam from escaping.
■ Rice triples in volume. Use cookware appropriate for the amount of rice you are preparing.
■ Do not stir. Stirring releases the starch, resulting in rice that is sticky.
■ At the end of cooking time, remove lid and test for doneness. If rice is not tender or liquid is not absorbed, cook 2 to 4 minutes longer.
■ When rice is cooked, fluff with fork or slotted spoon to allow steam to escape and keep the grains separate.
■ If rice is crunchy, add additional liquid, cover tightly and cook until grains are tender.
■ If more separate grains are desirable, sauté rice in small amount of butter or margarine before adding liquid.
Tips for cooking pasta
■ Boil 4 to 6 quarts of water for one pound of dry pasta. (You can divide this recipe depending on how much pasta you are cooking.)
■ Add the pasta with a stir and return the water to a boil.
■ Stir pasta occasionally during cooking.
■ Follow the package directions for cooking times. If the pasta is to be used as part of a dish that requires further cooking, undercook the pasta by 1⁄3 of the cooking time specified on the package.
■ Taste the pasta to determine whether it is done. Perfectly cooked pasta should be al dente, or firm to the bite, yet cooked through.
■ Drain pasta immediately and follow the rest of the recipe.
Sources: Cook's Illustrated, USA Rice and National Pasta Association