THERE’S A mystique about rice pudding, no matter how bad or good a particular pudding happens to be. Rice pudding is one of those authoritatively nostalgic foods that has that kind of power. You don’t mess with rice pudding, any more than you would mess with American apple pie. It is here to stay--inexorably entrenched in American cuisine.
So when rice pudding is good--and I mean very, very good--you sit up and take notice. That’s what happened when we responded to a grapevine dispatch that the rice pudding at The Grill in Beverly Hills was collecting fans as bees collect honey. A nubby white, fluffy mountain of creamy pudding appeared at our table. Eyes wobbled a bit in their sockets, nostrils flared to inhale wafts of aromas that aroused mental replays of Mom’s glorious rice pudding, and the tongue made a seemingly involuntary attack on a giant spoonful. “Who did this?” we asked, partly upset that another rice pudding could possibly supplant Mom’s in our heart. “Chef John Sola,” was the reply.
So we asked Sola to come up with the formula. The recipe, which comes from Sola’s cousin in Great Britain, became a best seller from the moment it was placed on The Grill menu on opening day, Jan. 31, 1984. In fact, rice pudding is the largest selling dessert at The Grill, outstripping American apple pie by 30% to 40%, according to proprietors Bob Spivak and Allan Ludwig. It is so popular that it is now being taken on the road. At the Beverly Hills food festival last month, for instance, 40 gallons of rice pudding were consumed.
THE GRILL RICE PUDDING
2 tablespoons butter3 cups milk cup sugar 1/2 cup short-grain rice1 1 1/2-inch vanilla bean1 cinnamon stick1 egg yolk2 tablespoons water 3/4 cup raisinsGround cinnamon
In 1 gallon saucepan, place butter, milk, sugar, rice, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 8 minutes, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes.
Combine egg yolk and water, then stir into saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes longer. Remove from heat and transfer to separate container and chill in refrigerator. Stir every 8 to 10 minutes to prevent rice from settling on bottom.
Simmer raisins 3 minutes in water to cover. Let cool 1 hour, then add to rice pudding. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or until as thick as desired. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon to garnish. Makes 6 ( 1/2-cup) servings.
Food styled by Norman Stewart; prop styling by RoseMary Aguayo; glasses courtesy of Tesoro Collection, Ltd.