Where some people have ASMR, I have Jacques Pepin. Something about watching a French grandfather with a lisp casually performing incredibly deft knife work with arthritic hands plays directly into my brain’s pleasure centers. I don’t know how long I’ve been watching Jacques, who’s had various shows on PBS’s Bay Area affiliate, KQED, since the late nineties, partly because I go into a blissful trance state and lose track of time whenever I watch him. I can never tell whether I’m watching a new episode or a rerun from 10 years ago. In some ways, Jacques feels timeless — like he’s always been and always will be.
I got to attend a live demonstration with Pepin and his daughter Claudine a few years ago, at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. I waited in line to take a picture with the chef, and when I finally got to the front, I sputtered, “You’re my favorite!” Because what do you say to your culinary hero and the grandfather who never had you?
“Okay,” Jacques replied, amiably.
As far as I can tell, Pepin hasn’t made any new television episodes in a while, but this month PBS started dropping little videos of his recipes on the American Masters YouTube account. There’s one for fried eggs, various types of omelets, etc. The beauty of a Jacques Pepin recipe is that it’s almost always simple and classic, a nice foundation of basic cooking technique that you can build on.
One new recipe that jumped out at me was his video for Rice Cake With Eggs.
There’s no flash here, which is why I love Pepin, in general. Jaques never has to yell to get your attention and his recipes are the same way, unadorned almost to the point of banality. This is just a three-minute video for a 10-minute recipe, which answers the very mundane question: what should I do with my leftover rice?
This week, I set out to see if it was as easy and delicious as Jacques made it look.
PART I — The Ingredients
I cooked one cup of dry rice the night before — Basmati, cooked in some chicken broth I had with a little butter. Then two eggs, a little olive, a little water, and chives to garnish.
PART II — The Process
Heat Some Oil In A Pan
I think I nailed this one.
Next, put a few cups of rice in the hot pan
- Make rice into a patty.
- Add a little (about 1/4th cup) water.
- Cover and cook for seven minutes to form crust.
I only used about a third of the cooked rice I had for this. The way Jacques did it, he put the cold rice into the pan, pressed it gently with the palm of his hand, added a little water, and then covered it to cook. As Claudine described it during their Aspen demonstration, Jacques is like the food whisperer, so things he makes look incredibly easy often aren’t for other people. For instance, when I mash hot rice into a pan with my bare hand, there’s definitely a bit more trying not to burn the hand and getting rice kernels stuck to it. But I think I still managed okay.
Jacques said about seven minutes for this part, on relatively high heat. Mine took a smidge longer at a 6.5 on the burner, I probably could’ve gone a little hotter. I usually judge done-ness for things like this by smell. Same with hash browns, there’s usually a distinct odor change that indicates when they’re done.
Step Three, Flip Rice Patty
Jacques said you could slide the patty out onto a plate and then turn it over back into the pan, but he accomplished it all at once, with just a little flick of the wrist. Naturally, I wanted to do it his way, so I tried to be a hero.
Result? …Not great.
The patty definitely didn’t flip over in one smooth go like when Jacques did it. I think this probably has to do with the fact that he said he was using the kind of steamed rice you get leftover from Chinese take out, while I was using soaked and washed, middle eastern-style basmati, which has thinner grains and less starch and doesn’t stick together quite as well. I was so flustered I didn’t get a picture of this part. In any case, even if it didn’t turn out in one nice piece it was still mostly evenly cooked and circle-shaped.
Step Four, Add Eggs And Steam
Make little seats in the rice with the back of spoon
Crack eggs into their seats
Cover and cook until eggs are done
I was slightly skeptical that this part would work as well as it did for Jacques, but it did. Aren’t they pretty?
Step Five, Garnish And Serve
Like virtually all Jacques recipes, this one ends with salt, pepper, and chives. Jacques Pepin f*cking loves chives. Chives are to Jacques Pepin what “BAM!” is to Emeril Lagasse. Only instead of shouting at you, he just sprinkles them on gently, leaving you to wonder where he got such big, beautiful chives.
Mine never look as good because I suck at gardening, but it’s still shocking how well they go with almost everything.
Is it as pretty as Jacques’ version?
Definitely not, you can tell that my rice didn’t quite make a “cake.” It’s more like a deconstructed fried rice. But even in flawed form, it was still a classic Jacques recipe: light, comforting, and incredibly simple. It’s certainly not a replacement for your usual Asian fried rice recipes — which are nearly as simple, just as comforting, and come in a hundred variations (I’m sure Zach could teach us 50) — but it’s a nice departure. I love the way the runny yolk coats the crispy rice. It feels light and slightly decadent at the same time.
Lesson learned: next time use stickier rice.