In this industry, we all stand on the shoulder's of giants. As we play with ideas, techniques, and flavors, we create fun and sometimes unique derivative works that open the door to new possibilities.
In their book Ideas in Food, Aki and Alex lay out a fun play on pork cracklins using kimchi pureed with tapioca starch instead of the standard pork skin. This mixture is cooked into a loose paste, spread thin on acetate sheets, and dehydrated. After about 24-48 hours, the resulting sheet will shatter like glass, and puff when dropped into hot oil. This concept works because even though the sheet seems completely dry, there's still a small amount of water trapped inside (about 4%).
When the dehydrated sheet is dropped in 400°F/204°C oil, the small amount of residual water quickly turns to steam, exploding outward, causing the starch gel to puff. The original Ideas in Food recipe used tapioca starch for it's bland flavor (so the kimchi could shine through), but this technique remains universal for any type of cooked, starchy puree that can be spread thin and dehydrated.
A few days ago, looking to add a crunchy texture and interesting flavor to an new dish, this idea popped back into my head. I wondered, why can't I use brown rice with the same approach? And since brown rice is a whole grain, shouldn't I be able to extract more flavor if I inoculated the soaking water with a sourdough culture and let it ferment a few days?
In fact, the approach turned out to be extremely simple. I took a teaspoon of sourdough starter and dissolved it in about three quarts of water. Brown rice was then submerged in this water, and left at room temperature to ferment.
Two days later I boiled the brown rice like pasta, purposely overcooking it so the starch granules would burst. It resulted in a goopy, sticky, brown rice "congee" that I first pureed in a food processor and then passed through a tamis (fine sieve).
As it started to cool, I could already see the starchy puree start to set. I whisked in a little warm water to loosen the mixture into a paste-like consistency, and spread it onto sheets of acetate cut to fit my dehydrator trays. The mixture was dehydrated overnight and broken into small pieces.
A simple dunk in 400°F/204°C oil for about 20 seconds causes the thin sheet of dehydrated brown rice to puff into an airy, crunchy 'cracklin.' While the texture is awesome, the flavor is truly the best part. The fermented brown rice cracklin has a deep, whole grain flavor with hints of popcorn and toasted wheat berries. Sprinkled with a little bit of kosher salt fresh from the fryer, these things quickly become addicting.
Now the possibilities are endless.
First, if the brown rice is simply covered with water and allowed to ferment at room temperature for 3-5 days (instead of inoculating with a sourdough starter), this could turn into a healthy snack for people suffering from celiacs. In fact, the fermentation step isn't even necessary, although I would argue the end flavor is better.
Second, the brown rice can be cooked in any number of flavored liquids, and the resulting puree can easily absorb other seasoning or ingredients in the form of spices, liquids, purees, etc. The only limitation is the mixture needs to be extremely low in fat, or it won't dehydrate properly.
Finally, this can be applied to any number of high starch mixtures, not just brown rice and tapioca starch. And in fact, it has. If anyone has ever eaten a Cheeto, Bugle, or a bowl of Rice Krispies for that matter, you've experienced first hand the textures this technique can create.
Like I said...we all stand on the shoulder's of giants.