If you enjoy rice as a side dish, consider baking plain rice or a rice-based recipe in the oven instead of boiling or steaming. This alternative cooking method involves minimal fuss and is especially handy when you're already using the oven to cook another dish. Baking rice also lends itself to one-pot meals such as casseroles and South Asian biriyanis, which add a lot of flavor to the rice as it blends with vegeatables, meat and seasonings. Spanish paellas and Italian risottos also work well as baked rice meals.
Basic Baked Rice
Preparing rice for baking is essentially the same as preparing it for boiling, but instead of a pan, you use a baking dish with a lid or foil. Any oven-proof dish will work as long as there's enough room for the rice to expand as it cooks. Wash the rice in cold water, place it in the bottom of the dish and cover it with one to two parts boiling water to one part rice. Some cookbooks recommend soaking the rice for 30 minutes or more before cooking it, but this step is not essential. Cover the dish with the lid or foil and place it in an oven preheated to 300 to 375 degrees F. Bake the rice for about 20 to 25 minutes, then remove the lid and test a piece. If the rice isn't done yet, replace the lid and continue to bake it for up to an hour. Add a little more hot water if the pan is starting to get dry. Brown rice generally requires a longer baking time and additional liquid. If you want to give the baked rice a nice crusty top, remove the lid for the final 10 minutes of baking.
Flavored Baked Rice
Make your baked rice more flavorful by substituting some or all of the water with chicken stock, red or white wine, a can of chopped tomatoes with the juice or coconut milk. Add a pinch of fresh or dried herbs and spices, minced garlic, lemon zest and juice or tomato paste to add some dimension. Include canned beans to the baked rice to make it a more substantial side dish, or add vegetables: saute onions, mushrooms or bell peppers with a little oil or butter before adding them to the baking dish with the rice, or simply add frozen vegetables, such as peas corn or spinach, or and spinach to the rice dish before baking..
Baked Rice Meals
Bake rice topped with layers of vegetables, meat and a sauce for an all-in-one meal. By adjusting the cooking time and oven temperature, you can adapt the technique to incorporate whole or chopped cuts of meat, either raw or precooked. Chicken, for instance, can be left on the bone for more flavor or sliced into bite-sized pieces. Pork chops, lamb chops, whole or sliced sausages, ground beef and canned tuna all work well. For the sauce, use store-bought spaghetti sauce, curry sauce cream of mushroom soup, or make your own. Add water or stock to the sauce to make up enough liquid to cook the rice. For a paella-inspired dish, use chicken, chicken stock, onion, garlic, peppers and Spanish sausage seasoned with paprika, oregano and saffron. For the final 10 minutes of cooking, remove the lid and add shellfish such as shrimp. Use garlic, ginger, chilies and aromatics like cardamom and cloves for an Indian-flavored baked rice dish. Use basmati rice and serve with a dollop of yogurt, or use a base of jasmine rice cooked with a blend of Thai curry paste, coconut milk and chicken stock.
Baked Rice Desserts
Bake rice with milk or cream and add some sugar to transform it into an easy dessert. Rice pudding is traditionally made with short grain rice, which yields a soft, gooey consistency. Butter a dish, add the rice and milk or cream and bake it uncovered for up to an hour or until the rice is soft and the top has developed a golden skin. Liven up a plain rice pudding with sweeteners like honey or maple syrup or enrich it with a few extra pats of butter. Throw in some dried fruit, berries, chopped apples or bananas, shredded coconut or chopped nuts. For a gourmet touch, add strong coffee, cinnamon, cocoa powder and chocolate chips, vanilla or lemon zest. Serve rice pudding hot or cold.