Published March 1, 2009.
We’ve already solved the cooking problems that plague brown rice. Now, what to do about jazzing up its taste?
Brown rice has issues. It takes almost an hour to cook and can be devilishly hard to get right. With such a long stay over the direct heat of the stovetop, the bottom layer typically turns dry and crusty, leaving far less edible rice than expected. Sure, you can speed up the process by cooking it in the microwave, but that just creates new problems: One batch will be dry and brittle, another too sticky.
We wanted to transform this plain grain by bumping up its flavor and complementing its chewy texture with a few easy additions.
Rice cookers can deliver excellent results, but not everyone wants another appliance in the house. In the test kitchen, we’ve licked brown rice’s cooking problems another way: We bake it in the oven, where the consistent, indirect heat simulates the environment of a rice cooker, eliminating scorching and creating perfect, evenly cooked rice every time. We first cooked a batch of oven-baked brown rice using our method: We boiled water, stirred it into brown rice in a glass baking dish, covered the dish with foil, then slid it into the oven to bake for an hour. We knew that once we added other ingredients, the 8-inch square baking dish would get a little tight. We could bake it in a bigger dish, but since we would be adding sautéed vegetables like onion and garlic, we would also be using a skillet. Why not streamline things by cooking everything in just one vessel? A roomy Dutch oven seemed like the best bet—plus its lid would mean we could eliminate the foil step. We prepped a new batch, stirring rice into water boiled in a Dutch oven, which we then covered and placed in the oven. To our surprise, when we lifted the lid an hour later, the rice was brittle and bone-dry—the liquid evaporated before the rice cooked through. The big culprit turned out to be the pot itself. Because the Dutch oven had a greater surface area than the square baking dish, more liquid was exposed to the heat of the oven, so more of it evaporated before the rice had a chance to cook. After tinkering, we achieved perfectly chewy brown rice in a Dutch oven by increasing the liquid and the cooking time.
It was finally time to dress up the dish. Incorporating some chicken broth into the cooking liquid was our first step. Then we determined when other additions should go into the pot (with the rice as it cooked, or after?). Onions could go into the pot with the uncooked rice, but first we caramelized them for deeper flavor. Other ingredients did best with a gentle warming, stirred into the rice after it was removed from the oven. Just before serving, fresh herbs and a squeeze of citrus brightened the flavors.list of recipes