‘Food is a central part of us’: Meet the brothers who went from home cooks to tastemakers | It’s the rice that makes it

Brothers Craig and Sean McAnuff have become YouTube stars and cookbook authors thanks to their infectious love of Caribbean food. Hundreds of thousands of spectators watched them burn rice and peas or salty fish and ackee, their food reminding of long, hot days under the scorching sun. Above all, they make it look so easy that you know you can do it yourself.

The brothers conjure dishes full of rich aromas and inviting colours, the kind that can be shared around a large table with family and friends. And amid all that color and flavor, there’s one constant—a bowl of rice.

“Food is a pivotal part of us getting together as a family on Sunday after church,” says Sean, who grew up with his brother in Thornton Heath, south London. “Each of us brings a plate to share with everyone else. And there is always rice on the table.”

Long grain, jasmine, and brown are common, but basmati is the most notable. “There’s just something about its delicate texture and slightly sweet taste,” Sean says. “A bowl filled with light seasoning and served with plenty of butter is perfect.”

Craig McAnuff

The brothers share happy childhood memories when they watch their nanny make butter rice in her kitchen. “I made mostly butter and cream rice. It was so warm and comforting, and it held a special place in my heart,” says Craig. Nowadays, he likes to season the rice with simple aromatics, including black pepper and fresh thyme, as well as a pinch of all-purpose seasoning “for warm, subtle notes and a little kick.”

The brothers turned their passion for Caribbean food into a business when they launched Original Flava in 2016. They started by creating recipe videos, and that led to their first book, Original Flava: Caribbean Recipes From Home. While in Jamaica for research, they see a street chef cooking a pot of rice, removing thyme leaves from their stems to add to the simmering pot. “They added a wonderfully herbal aroma without being overpowering, and enhanced the qualities of the grain,” says Craig.

Overhead shot of rice and peas ingredients

For the brothers, aromatics are the quickest way to make a pot of rice something complex and very tasty. “Whole cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, or Scotch bonnet pepper…Put the pepper in just before the rice is ready,” Sean says. “Too early, and it might explode, and that would be a disaster. You just want a little bit of chili heat at the end. You get a great spiciness and flavor, and it’s easy to catch because it’s so alive between the beans.”

Their journey from home cooks to food tastemakers has seen them get 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,” Sean says. The aromatic spices gave the rice a warm, peppery aroma, which paired beautifully with the curry.

When it comes to choosing which rice to use in a dish, the couple says personal preference is key. An example of this is jollof, a West African rice dish cooked in a tomato, pepper and chili sauce. “Ghanasians often use long-grain rice, but Nigerians tend to use basmati more,” Sean says.

And when their nannies make rice and peas, which traditionally use long grains, they often opt for brown rice instead. This switch added extra smoothness, while also improving the color of the dish. “Brown rice takes longer to cook, but has a stronger ‘bite’ than white,” says Craig. “You have to be patient, but the reward speaks for itself.”

They both name Tilda as their preferred choice of rice due to its quality and variety. “If you love cooking from scratch, Tilda makes a great combo—long grain, jasmine, basmati, the list goes on,” says Craig. “But if you’re not too confident, Tilda’s microwave packs are great too. And there are plenty to choose from.” If you’re pressed for time, the packets are ready to eat in two minutes.

Sean McAnuff
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Basmati’s aromatic properties have led to it being called “rice champagne”. But not all Basmati are equal. Tilda selects only the highest quality beans and then works to bring out the best in the beans. The beans are stored for several months until they develop a deep, rich flavour, and the broken beans are discarded, ensuring dishes are free of excess starch and stickiness.

Whatever rice you’re cooking, the key is to wash it in cold water two or three times first, Craig says. “It gets rid of the starch, and it makes a huge difference in making the rice really fluffy.” Whether you’re making a main course (like Original Flava’s Spicy Turmeric Rice and Salmon in One Pot) or a “bottom of the fridge” dish (vegetable fried rice for a duo), what’s not to like?

“Rice is such a versatile comfort food. The thing you have to remember is to go with your gut when choosing the right variety for your dish,” Sean says. “Knowing you have this flexibility can be so liberating, and you don’t need to make it complicated.”

Tilda has been the preferred choice of cedar aficionados for over 50 years. The rice you choose can really elevate your plate, so Tilda ensures that its products are only the best quality grains. For more information, visit tilda.com

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