When in Paris, I spend hours reading reviews of the latest restaurant openings. Some of the reviewers, like John Talbot, a popular food critic and blogger, have even become my friends. On a recent visit John suggested that my spouse and I join him and his wife for lunch at Clover, a new restaurant in the 7th arrondissement. Our meal was inventive and delicious, but what made our visit to this small dining spot memorable was the amicable chef, Jean François Piège of two-star Michelin fame, who set down at our table to talk and even shared a special recipe.
Our lunch included lieu jaune (a mild white fish) with endives, nuts, and shaved green apples as well as an incredibly tender chicken served with a golden rice cake scented with Comté cheese, plus a dessert of roasted butternut squash with house made vanilla rum ice cream. It was the side dish, the small rectangle of rice bound with cheese, though, that caught my attention.
I was trying to figure out how it was prepared when the chef took a seat next to me to chat. I wasn’t shy in asking how the rice dish was made. He explained that his mother had used leftover rice this way, combining it with grated cheese and packing it into a pan to firm up. Then she simply cut the rice into rectangles and pan-fried them until crisp and golden. Although he used a well-aged Comté cheese, I opted for Gruyère with equally good results. Every time I’ve made these rice cakes, I have been reminded of the generosity of this busy, talented Parisian chef who took time to tell me the history of and share the directions for this recipe.
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Riz au Gruyère (Rice Cakes with Gruyère)
10 cups water
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2 bay leaves broken in half
1 1/2 cups well packed grated Gruyère, plus extra for garnishing (about 8 oz)- See note
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp canola oil plus more if needed
2 tbsp unsalted butter plus extra for the baking dish and for sautéing
1. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish (such as a pyrex dish) and line the pan with parchment paper cut 8 inches wide and long enough that it extends 3 to 4 inches over two sides. Butter the paper.
2. In a large, heavy saucepan set over medium high heat, bring the water to a boil and then add the rice, 1 teaspoon salt, and the bay leaves. Cook until tender, about 14 minutes. Remove and drain.
3. Discard the bay leaves and return the rice to the saucepan. Stir in the cheese gradually, allowing it to melt as you stir. Season the rice with 1 more teaspoon salt, thyme, and black pepper. Taste and add extra salt if needed.
4. Spoon the rice into the baking dish and press down with your hands to make an even, compact layer. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold and firm, two hours or overnight.
5. Use a sharp knife to loosen the edges without paper around the pan. Lift the rice from the pan, using the parchment paper as an aid, to a chopping board. Discard the paper. Cut the rice in half and then cut each half into six equal rectangles. If you like, you can trim the sides of the “rice cakes” with a sharp knife to give them a more even appearance.
6. Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium high heat until very hot. Add enough rice cakes to fit comfortably in a single layer. Do not crowd them. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes or more. Then with a metal spatula, turn and cook until golden on the other side, 3 to 4 minutes or more. Repeat using more butter and oil as needed to sauté the remaining rice cakes.
7. With a vegetable peeler, shave thin slices from extra Gruyère to garnish each serving. Makes 12 rice cakes.
Note: A good quality Gruyère, preferably an aged one, works best in this recipe. I found well-aged Gruyère at both Whole Foods and Trader’s Joe’s.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2015