Milchriis: Swiss-style comfort food

Rich and soul-warming, milk rice (or Milchriis in Schwiizertüütsch, pronounced [ˈmilχˌriːs]) is a traditional Swiss dinner with a high addiction potential. We rarely go ten days without cooking it.

For some reason, however, it is highly polarizing — people either love it or hate it. Most likely, the main reason for the latter demography is simply the astounding proliferation of bad recipes. In the wrong hands, milk rice ends up bland and unsatisfying, and no amount of vanilla will change that. The secret to good milk rice is as simple as it is effective: Salt, very little sugar, and most importantly, lemon zest.

Of course, some people just dislike sweetish dinners for reasons unfathomable. If you are one of those, perhaps you can try this recipe as part of a Sunday brunch instead.

Source family recipe plus some subtle improvement of our own Difficulty trivial Time 25 min Serves 2

Milchriis with applesauce and lemon tea… mmm. ;o)

Ingredients

  • 250 g risotto rice (e.g., Arborio or Carnaroli)
  • 1 l fresh milk (half- or full-fat)
  • 1 organic lemon
  • 1 handful of raisins
  • salt
  • cinnamon
  • sugar
  • unsweetened applesauce

You might find special kinds of rice are branded for the specific purpose of making rice pudding (e.g., «dessertrijst» in the Netherlands, «Milchreis» in Germany). I don’t recommend them — I find I get better results with the more versatile risotto rice.

Use fresh milk, not the UHT stuff. Pasteurized, homogenized, or microfiltered is all fine.

We’re going to use the zest of the lemon, so look for organic or explicitly «untreated» lemons. Regular lemons typically come coated in wax or pesticides. You can often find organic lemons in big supermarkets, but if not, they’re worth the trip to a health store.

Some applesauces come with a heavy and quite unnecessary dose of added sugar. Get the unsweetened kind if you can. Or just cook up some fresh apple compote yourself… recipe forthcoming.  ;o)

Preparation

Leave the raisins to soak in a bowl of water to relieve them of their wax coating. Wash the lemon vigorously under running water (even untreated, you don’t know where it’s been…).

Put a liter of milk into a cooking pan and turn up the heat. Add some salt. I recommend two pinches made with two fingers and a thumb, which is quite noticeable in the end result. It won’t be as salty as Scottish porridge, but feel free to use only one pinch if you’re doubtful.

Give it the occasional stir to avoid sticking on the bottom. Once you can feel warmth radiating from the milk, add in the rice — it will make the milk less prone to boil over, and the grains will help you scrub the pan bottom clean when you stir. As soon as you see first boiling motions in the milk, reduce the heat to low, only just enough to keep the boil alive. Metal and ceramics stoves are slow to react, so there might still be danger of overboiling for a while until the pan has settled into the new thermal equilibrium. Stand ready to move the pan off the offending stove plate immediately if you see an alarming rise of froth in the pan.

The rice and milk will take about 15 minutes to boil down to a creamy texture with a bit of chewy resistance left in the rice. Stir frequently; don’t let a tough layer develop on the pan bottom. During that cooking time — the earlier, the better — grate the zest of the lemon directly into the pan. Don’t dig too much into the bitter white pith.

Don’t just chuck that lemon away. Black tea with lemon juice is a perfect companion to Milchriis.

Drain off the raisins and add them to the mixture.

We’re done here.

Once the milk rice has reached its intended consistency, it is ready for consumption. Ladle it into bowls and dust it with cinnamon powder and sugar. Serve the applesauce on the side.

The lemon you grated isn’t going to last — put it to good use and squeeze some of its juice into a pitcher of black tea. It goes very well with the milk rice.

Variations

First of all, you’ll notice I add salt but no sugar during the cooking process. I find the raisins and a teaspoon of sprinkled-on sugar per ladleful of milk rice quite sweet enough. It’s dinner, after all, not dessert… but if you prefer it sweeter, feel free to add one or two tablespoons of sugar during cooking.

Almost all recipes I find online call for vanilla. Frankly, I think it’s a crutch that people lean on when their recipes turn out bland for lack of salt and lemon zest. I’ve tried adding it to our recipe, though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt. The lemon and raisins should remain the primary flavors, though.

A firmly established traditional variant is to use semolina (from hard wheat) instead of rice. You’ll need less semolina than rice: only about 100 g per liter of milk. Due its very fine texture, the semolina is almost instantly ready when added to the hot milk (strew it in under vigorous whisking to avoid clumps). This makes it a particularly conventient choice when you’re short on time, such as for breakfast on a work day.

Another neat variant is the exotic milk rice: Replace the raisins by a can of pineapple rings, drained and cut into small pieces, and replace about a deciliter of the milk with coconut milk. Sprinkle grated coconut instead of cinnamon (or in addition to cinnamon).

Of course, the applesauce is also exchangeable. You can use prune, peach, or rhubarb compote, for instance.

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