Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hath turn'd his balls to gun-stones

Excelsior, true believers!

I wanted to start this entry by thanking everyone who's shown an interest in the project. It's extremely heartening to realize that people I don't already know are checking in on this. Also, shame is a powerful motivator, and the more people who are reading, the worse I will feel about not sticking with the work.

Special thanks to the American Shakespeare Center for the Facebook link, and to former roommate Shannon for driving up from Staunton, VA in order to confirm the deliciousness of the aforementioned dishes. The sauce from the Chicken did some congealing in the fridge and was much thicker when it was reheated, which improved the dish tremendously. Something to note for next time.


Once upon a time, I asked my friends on Facebook whether I should start cooking things from Shakespeare's Kitchen. My friend 'Stina replied that the rice balls were delicious. So when the time came to make those rice balls, I was very excited. But instead of delicious Renaissance goodness, I instead brought shame upon my house.

If you remember from the last episode, I actually purchased all of the ingredients for Renaissance Rice Balls ahead of time. The recipe requires a bunch of the ingredients to chill completely, so everything was hastily assembled and fridged before I got to cooking the Chicken and Six Onions. That part went well.

For the most part, anyway.

See, here's the deal. After the rice is cooked, you combine it with sugar, eggs, cream, and grated Caciocavallo. What's Caciocavallo? It's a type of cheese. Do you know what kind of cheese my Whole Foods doesn't have? Caciocavallo. Luckily, it's a bit like provolone, which they did have. I ran into a problem, though.

There was only one piece of fancy provolone, and I had no idea whether it would actually produce a cup of grated cheese. But it did! Which is good, because my backup plan was really, really bad.

So here is everything all whisked together and awaiting the rice. After adding the rice and mixing as thoroughly as possible, the bowl went into the fridge so I could get back to my futile attempts at cutting up chicken.

And then we travel in time from Sunday to Tuesday. VWORP! VWORP! The rice+ mixture comes out of the fridge, and then gets rolled into balls. Now, the recipe suggests 36 balls 1" in diameter. I'm not so great at estimating sizes, but damn if I didn't make exactly 36 of the things.

Some held together better than others, which would be a problem later. Oh, this is one of those moments of brilliance. I'm supposed to roll them in flour or breadcrumbs, and since I thought it would be fancy, I bought a container of panko. Panko is fancy! Also, it was a really great, passive aggressive way to further delegitimize the already questionable historical accuracy of the recipe. It's commentary in breadcrumb form. One thing I didn't think through - it's a little difficult to tell which rice balls are panko-rolled, and which aren't. But I am clever, and color-coded my plates. And, you know, covered one in panko. Like I said, clever!

So we're ready to fry, which brings us to my trusty assistant.

Lodge cast iron, 10" skillet. I'm still getting the hang of it, and my eggs have a bad habit of sticking, but it's been great for meat. I thought that it would be the best choice for doing a lot of frying. Maybe one day I'll tell you about the three different times this skillet almost set my apartment on fire.

The oil heats up, and in go the breaded rice balls. Things start off pretty well.

 But then, disaster strikes.

Several of the rice balls start falling apart, and in the meantime I'm not sure if the panko is browning right, and there is hot grease splattering on my arm so I give up in dejection. The best looking rice balls are salvaged and I clean out the pan. After some consultation with the roommate, I decide to science things up and change only one variable for the second batch. The theory is that raising the heat will get everything crispy without allowing time for the balls to soak in oil for too long and fall apart. It's... a good theory.

But theories don't always work out. It was basically a crispier version of the first go-around. There is also an added bonus in the form of increased oil splatter. I kind of wish there had been someone available to take pictures of me working, because then you'd have the joy of seeing me attempting to turn rice balls at arms' length while hiding behind an oven mitt. It didn't work especially well. See, increasing the heat meant that not only was more oil splattering around, the rice mixture was also splattering. After the second time that molten cheese landed on my face (and I realized that several minutes later I could still feel exactly where it had hit), I called the whole thing off. The best rice balls were set aside, and all of the uncooked ones went into the trash. I did wind up with a kind of fried rice hash, but it mostly tasted like vegetable oil and crispiness. That was quickly trashed as well.

According to the cookbook, I should have wound up with something like this.

Here's the actual final product of my evening in the kitchen.

It's a far cry from the image in the book, which tells us that even food can suffer from low self-esteem when faced with the unrealistic images portrayed in the media. The rice balls tasted not entirely awful. You could tell that there was a lot of potential, especially in the rice mixture itself. But the end result wasn't good enough to keep me from tossing them after eating just a few. I have some theories as to what went wrong. The main one is that I'm just not very good at dealing with this kind of frying yet. It's entirely possible that if I had stuck to my initial heat and just accepted that some would fall apart, I would have been ok in the end. The other theory is that my rice mixture was very uneven. In retrospect, I think I should have poured the other ingredients of the mixture over the cooked rice instead of the other way around. Even when I was forming the balls some were holding together better than others. The ingredients may have mixed more evenly if I had been working from the top down instead of up from the bottom of the mixing bowl. 

Whatever the reason, I can hereby declare my Renaissance Rice Balls to be a failure.


You'll all be pleased to know that, despite the Rice Ball Fiasco, my girlfriend Michelle is incredibly excited about the idea of me cooking something for her instead of the other way around. Later today I'll be making her a dinner of her choice, and unless I poison her I think this will be very concrete spur for future cooking sessions.

And finally, it's too early to provide more details, but there's an elaborate secret literary food project in the works. And by "project," I also mean "food."


  1. retry the riceballs? They sound tasty. Try an oil with a high heat point? Sesame oil is good for this.

    yay for continued posting

    1. Will retry at some point, but for the purposes of the experiment they count as having been done. Mostly so there aren't any weeks where I post only redos and pretend it's new and exciting.

      Maybe a meal made out of previous failures, though.

  2. The perfect (must be airbrushed!) balls do look delicious. They look like they were fried lower and longer. Here's another vote for a retry.

    I am a fan of code words and by "code" I also mean "food."

    1. Low and slow is the advice I'm getting, so that's the plan for next time. And glad you're a "fan".

  3. Did you season your pan right after you bought it? Alton Brown suggests one season their pan once a year to ensure a non stick coating:

  4. Hi, found about this from Francine, who is a frequent speaker at 92nd Street Y in NY. We think it's a great project, and posted something on our blog/Google +:

    Good luck!