What is it?
You know that nice little crunch you get in your mouth as you're tucking into the first course at the latest, hottest restaurant? You don't? Well, imagine rice bubbles scattered through lush creaminess or tender meats, and that's what we're talking about. Puffed rice is nothing more than cooked rice, dehydrated and flash-fried, but it gives that all-important snap, crackle and pop that modern chefs - and diners - love.
Where is it?
At the new MoVida Sydney, Frank Camorra scatters puffed wild rice over baby squid stuffed with black rice and black squid ink for his calamares rellenos. "It adds a bit of texture that the dish was missing," Camorra says. "And I like that we're already using rice in another form in the stuffing." ARIA recently served up a delicate sashimi of yellowfin tuna with shaved fennel and radish, octopus, spicy puffed rice and yuzu, and at the very progressive Cara & Co, a ''risotto'' of puffed rice is served with a foam of aged gouda cheese.
Why do I care?
You might not. This might just be a step too far towards cheffiness for you. Or you might love the idea of adding a lovely light crunch to sashimi and raw fish dishes, to Asian salads and even roasts and curries. You can layer the little crunch-balls into trifles, or use to garnish creamy custards and mousses.
Can I do it at home?
Indeed. It's one of the few new cheffy tricks that we can perform at home without the need for expensive, high-tech tools. And you can do it ahead of time, ready to impress friends and influence people with your instant garnish.
Tuna sashimi with puffed rice and wasabi cream
50g jasmine rice, well cooked and cooled
50g wild rice, well cooked and cooled
Oil for deep frying
2 tsp prepared wasabi paste
1 tsp lime or lemon juice
2 tbsp yoghurt or cream
Sea salt and black pepper
200g sashimi-grade tuna or salmon
8 slices sushi ginger
2 tbsp baby herbs or cress
1. To make the puffed rice, heat the oven to 80C. Scatter the cooked jasmine rice and wild rice in a single layer on a tray lined with baking paper, and bake for 1 hour or until crisp and dry.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and fry the rice in small batches - it will puff up immediately. Drain well and store in an airtight container until needed.
3. Whisk the wasabi paste, lime juice, yoghurt or cream, sea salt and pepper together until smooth and adjust to your taste, thinning out with a dash of water if you like.
4. To serve, finely slice the fish and arrange on four chilled plates. Top with the sushi ginger, drizzle with the wasabi dressing, scatter with the mixed puffed rice and herbs or cress, and serve.
Serves 4 as a first course
Movida 50 Holt Street, Surry Hills, 8964 7642.
ARIA 1 Macquarie Street, city, 9252 2555.
Cara & Co Level 4 Westfield Sydney, 188 Pitt Street, city, 9226 9988.