The Thrilling Dare of Scorched Rice

CAUTION is required to get a nice crust on the bottom of your pot, those grains cooked past their time, bronzed and crisped but not yet burnt; to go nearly too far with your rice cooking. You have no idea what’s going on. When you open the lid, you’ll just see the fluffy, preening rice on top.

Nonetheless, do not open the lid or stir the mixture. This might be done by stuffing an old kitchen towel around its rim or by flicking the flame up high and leaning into the pot to capture any remaining water that might be dripping out of it as it cools down.

It’s up to you to recognise when the aroma of roasting reaches its peak—the smell of popcorn just bursting into life, kernels turning themselves inside out, or the aroma of hot chestnuts from street carts in winter, tossed in woks with tiny black stones and shucked of their sleeves—to save it before it turns into bitterness.

In return for your efforts, you’ll get to experience the other side of rice—the hardened, sealed-together grains that are deliciously chewy and crispy.

Most cultures around the world that eat rice have their own names for the prized crust, including: xoon (as in the name of the dish), Tahdig (as in the name of the dish), Com Chay (the name of the dish), Socarrat (the name of the dish), Pegao (the name of the dish), Nurungji (the name of the dish), Hiakakeh (the name of the dish), Graten (the name of the dish), Kanzo These terms have been adopted into English in parts of Africa as “bottom pot” and “underpot,” respectively. Others are derived from words describing the vessel in which the rice is stored, such as “dukot,” a Cebuano verb meaning “to stick around too long,” or from the verb “raspar,” which means “to scrape” in Spanish, in which case the Cuban term “raspa” is derived from the Spanish “raspar,” “to scrape.”