Original Flava's Rice Story
Craig and Shaun McAnuff, also known as Original Flavour, are two brothers from South London who inspire us with their love for Caribbean Cooking. They told us about their passion for food and how rice plays a big part in their culinary journey. This article was originally published on theguardian.com as part of the Tilda and Guardian Labs 'It's the rice that makes it' campaign.
Food is a pivotal part of us’: meet the brothers who went from home cooks to tastemakers!
Flavour and colour are at the heart of Craig and Shaun McAnuff’s dishes. And an ingredient they love to use is rice. They tell Chris Mandle how they make the grain sing.
-By Chris Mandle
Brothers Craig and Shaun McAnuff have become YouTube stars and cookbook authors thanks to their contagious love of Caribbean food. Hundreds of thousands of viewers have watched them rustle up rice and peas or saltfish and ackee, their food bringing to mind long, hot days under a blazing sun. Above all, they make it look so easy that you know you could do it yourself.
The brothers conjure up dishes full of rich aromas and enticing colours, the kind to be shared around a big table with family and friends. And amid all this colour and flavour, there is one constant – a bowl of rice.
“Food is a pivotal part of us coming together as a family on Sunday after church,” says Shaun, who grew up with his brother in Thornton Heath, south London. “Each of us brings a dish to share with everyone else. And there’s always rice on the table.”
Long-grain, jasmine and brown are popular, but basmati features most prominently. “There’s something about its fluffy texture and slightly sweeter taste,” says Shaun. “A bowlful, lightly seasoned and served with lots of butter is perfect.”
The brothers share happy childhood memories of watching their nan prepare buttered rice in her kitchen. “She made the most buttery, creamy rice. It was so warm and comforting, it holds a special place in my heart,” says Craig. Nowadays, he likes to season his rice with simple aromatics, including black pepper and fresh thyme, plus a sprinkle of all-purpose seasoning “for warm, subtle notes, and a little kick”.
The brothers turned their love of Caribbean food into a business when they launched Original Flava in 2016. They started by creating recipe videos and this led to their first book, Original Flava: Caribbean Recipes From Home. While in Jamaica for research, they saw a street chef cooking a vat of rice, and stripping thyme leaves from their stalks to add to the simmering pot. “They lent an impressive herbal aroma without overpowering it, and enhanced the qualities of the grain,” says Craig.
For the brothers, aromatics are the quickest way to make a pot of rice into something complex and deeply flavourful. “Whole cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, or a scotch bonnet pepper … put the pepper in just before the rice is ready,” says Shaun. “Too early, and it might burst, and that would be a disaster. You just want a little chilli heat at the end. You get a nice hit of spice, and an infusion of flavour, And it’s easy to fish out because it’s so vivid among the grains.”
Their journey from home cooks to foodie tastemakers has seen them pick up tips from culinary stars along the way. “We did some work with Ainsley Harriott, who was cooking a curry with cardamom pods. Then he put one in the rice too,” says Shaun. The fragrant spice gave a warm, peppery note to the rice, which paired beautifully with the curry.
When it comes to choosing which rice to use in a dish, the pair say personal preference is key. Case in point is jollof, a west African rice dish cooked in a tomato, pepper, and hot chilli sauce. “Ghanains often use long-grain rice, but Nigerians tend to use basmati more,” says Shaun.
And when their nan made rice and peas, which traditionally uses long-grain, she would often go for brown rice instead. This switch added extra nuttiness, while also enhancing the dish’s colour. “Brown rice does take longer to cook, but it has a stronger ‘bite’ to it than white,” says Craig. “You have to be patient, but the reward speaks for itself.”
Both name Tilda as their go-to choice for rice due to its quality and variety. “If you love cooking from scratch, Tilda does a great selection – long-grain, jasmine, basmati, the list goes on,” says Craig. “But if you’re not so confident, Tilda’s microwave packets are great too. And there are loads to chose from.” If you’re pushed for time, the packs are ready to eat in two minutes.
Basmati’s aromatic properties have led to it being called “the champagne of rice”. But not all basmatis are equal. Tilda selects only top quality grains and then works to bring out the best in them. The grains are stored for months so they develop a deep, rich flavour, and broken ones are weeded out, ensuring dishes are free of excess starch and stickiness.
Craig says that whatever rice you cook, the key is to wash it in cold water two or three times first. “It gets rid of the starch, and makes a massive difference in getting the rice really fluffy.” Whether you are creating a showstopping main (such as Original Flava’s spicy turmeric rice and salmon one-pot) or a “bottom of the fridge” dish (the duo’s vegetable fried rice), what’s not to like?
“Rice is a comfort food and so versatile. The thing to remember is to go with your gut when choosing the variety that’s right for your dish,” says Shaun. “Knowing you have that flexibility can be so freeing, you don’t need to make it complicated.”
Tilda has been the go-to choice for rice aficionados for more than 50 years. The rice you choose can really elevate your plate, so Tilda ensures that only the best quality grains go into its products. For more information, visit tilda.com
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– By Pal Hansen/The Guardian