There's no need to totally depend on a rice cooker


POSTED: Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We have been spoiled by our rice cookers. Add rice and water, push button, walk away. It's so easy that we've forgotten how to make rice any other way, if we ever even knew. When the rice pot breaks or we're in a place that doesn't have one, we think we can't have rice.

There are other easy ways, however, and by that I don't mean the slow simmering of rice on the stovetop. That method requires some experience and a watchful eye to prevent boil-over or burning.

I've written before about cooking rice in a microwave. (Put up to 2 cups raw rice in a 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup, add the usual amount of water, microwave on high uncovered — this is important, uncovered — for 15 to 18 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Stir.)

But there's another heat-producing element in your kitchen — the oven — and it, too, can cook rice. This was brought to my attention by Faith Shido, who had to cook rice for 75 people. While researching her problem she found instructions for cooking rice in the oven and brought them to my attention.

Why the oven? Because with a large enough pan you can cook rice for a crowd. It's much simpler than making two or three batches in your rice cooker, washing it out between each one. Or, if you're using the oven anyway, to roast a chicken or something, cook a cup of rice alongside in a casserole dish — saves energy.

I've been practicing, and here's how it works, to make rice for about 25 people:

» Supplies: 1 8-quart aluminum roasting pan (the size normally used to keep food warm over Sterno heaters), foil and your oven.

» Ingredients: 8 cups raw rice (white, brown, mixed, long-grain, short-grain, whatever) and water. For white rice you'll need 1-1/2 cups water per cup of rice, so in this case, 12 cups. For brown rice the ratio is 2-to-1. For other types use slightly more water than the package recommends.

» Process: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread rice in pan (it's easiest if you don't wash the rice first, but if you can't stand that idea, be sure to drain it well). Boil water and carefully pour over rice. Stir and try to smooth rice into an even layer. Cover tightly with foil, sealing edges. Place in oven about 25 minutes for white rice, up to 45 for brown. Don't lift the foil while rice is cooking. To check for doneness, move the pan; if liquid is still sloshing around, it's not done.

» Finishing: Remove pan from oven and let sit 5 to 10 minutes (if you can't stand the suspense, lift a corner and take a peek, but seal it back up). Remove foil to reveal a perfect pan of rice. Stir to fluff it up.

You'll find that the cooked rice fills about half the pan, which means you could actually cook more. Or you could cook less, using a pot — then you could boil the water and cook the rice in the same vessel. They key is to remember the water has to be boiling and the pan has to be well sealed.


Can you help?

If you have a lead on any of these old-style recipes, please get in touch. A free cookbook goes to anyone who can provide a recipe that works:

» Who knows how to make bibingka the really old way? As Debbie from Portland, Ore., writes, “;Da kine they made at the chicken fight. Looks like one big muffin. It was made from scratch and used to be baked in a small coffee can with banana leaves inside.”; She even wants to grind the rice herself.

» Jim Hiyane wants to make Portuguese sausage. “;I truly miss the ones with nice chunky pork and fat, unlike the present brands which are a mushy mixture of indistinguishable ingredients. Use of ingredients available at the supermarket would be grand.”;