We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oven Baked Rice and Risotto With A Variety of Add-Ins

by Michelle

   Have you ever been frustrated by making stovetop rice? Burnt pans, in particular? I've got the solution for you: oven baked rice! But the fun doesn't stop there. You can achieve with ease a close approximation to classic, labor intesive risotto, also in the oven. As Jamie Oliver would quip, "Happy days."
   My favorite tool for making rice and risotto is a 2-3/4 quart oven-proof soup pot with matching lid by Le Creuset. Both items are made of cast iron with an enamel coating. Check-out the house wares isles of discount stores such as Ross or Marshall's to find enamel covered cast iron pots at reduced prices from competing manufacturers. The pan makes a difference! The heavier the better.
   Back in the mid nineties, soon after Juliette gave birth to her youngest daughter, Linda and I took a road trip down to Bisbee to meet our niece and to see the rest of the family. When we arrived, Juliette had the best dinner waiting for us: Burritos stuffed with stewed chicken, Mexican rice (see below), refried pinto beans, shredded cheddar, smothered in mole verde and drizzled with Mexican Crème Fraîche. Simple "slow food" at its best - all homemade - delicious and comforting. Even though such food is simple to make, it's not necessarily easy to replicate.
   I listened as Juliette explained how she sautées white rice in butter or oil until the grains turn translucent, and are gently touched with brown, about 7 minutes, then she adds broth reserved from stewing the whole chicken. Add salt, give the mixture a stir, and when the broth returns to a boil, cover, reduce the temperature to low and cook for about 20 minutes, or pop the covered pan into a preheated oven to finish cooking.    
   Another trick I have learned along the way to ensure fluffy rice is to absorb excess steam with one simple step. Once the rice is finished cooking, remove the pot from the heat. Quickly insert three layers of paper towels or a clean dishcloth in between the pot and the lid. After a minimum of 5 minutes, or up to 15, remove the lid and the dishcloth. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.
   I am a huge fan of the brown rice at restaurant P.F. Chang's. I will admit freely, to my own embarrasement, that it took me the longest time to figure out that the secret is simply medium grain brown rice. Forget about their special sauce made table side, just bring me a quart of the mustard sauce that is served with the salt and pepper prawns. I've been working on the addictive mustard sauce for awhile. A half-agreeable waiter gave Linda and me the list of ingredients for the sauce, but he would not provide the corresponding measurements. At least knowing what goes into the sauce got me on the right track. As for the rice, it is also my family's favorite and you can always find medium grain brown rice stored in my refrigerator because brown rice can spoil rather quickly in the pantry.
   One of the best dinners I ever ate was at the now shuttered Talula's in Miami Beach. Picture this: Crispy Skin Yellowtail Snapper served with Sweet Potato-Wild Mushroom Risotto, Wilted Organic Arugula and Kaffir Lime Butter. Although we don't add Sweet Potatoes (but I suppose we could - I'll have to give that a try), the Milanese Risotto below is a close approximation with the addition of mushrooms, and would be equally delicious with roasted chicken or pork chops. The possibilites are truly endless. I hope you have as much fun as I do experimenting along the way.

Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto with fresh parsley and shaved fennel.
Oven Baked Rice and Risotto with a Variety of Add-Ins

   There are a many creative ways you can perk up rice. Consider sautéing minced shallots, garlic and mushrooms along with the rice before adding broth. Or, with the addition of broth, throw in small cubes of root vegetables or squash. The famous Chicago-based chef Rick Bayless recommends adding a diced roasted poblano, corn kernals and/or shelled peas during the 5 minute steam absorption period to quickly warm the ingredients. When you fluff the rice, simply mix in the ingredients resting on top.
   A handful of minced parsley, cilantro or thyme is also a nice addition. Throw some freshly diced scallions - both the white and green parts - for another fresh dimension.
   Finally, as Australian-based chef and food stylist Donna Hay has taught us, you can approximate risotto in the oven using Arborio rice, broth, white wine, parmesan cheese and butter. Scroll down the page for details.

1 Tbsp butter, olive oil or ghee
1-2 shallots, peeled and minced, optional
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced, optional
2-1/2 cups filtered water or broth - vegetable or chicken
1-1/2 cups brown rice - any size grain: short, medium or long
         (To cook white rice, please see step 5 below)
1/2 tsp sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups frozen peas, or corn, or a mix of both, optional

Special Equipment:
A heavy oven-proof casserole, soup pot or saucepan, and lid. Capacity about 3 quarts.
Alternatively you can use an 8-inch square baking dish for a single recipe, or 13"x9" rectangular dish for a double recipe and cover with a double layer of foil, tightly crimping the edges to form a tight seal.

1. Adjust rack to middle of the oven. For brown rice preheat oven to 375°F. For white rice preheat oven to 350°F.
2. For Brown Rice: melt butter, olive oil or ghee in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the liquid and about 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir to combine, increase heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil.

3. Immediately cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Remove from oven, stir the rice and taste to verify the rice is cooked through. If not, return to oven and cook for 5 minutes more.
4. Once the rice is fully, cooked, add peas or corn, if using. Cover top of pan with triple layer of paper towels or clean dish towel to absorb excess steam, and cover with lid. Let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir and serve.

Absorbing excess steam at the end of cooking.
For White Rice:
   Follow the complete set of directions for brown rice, but reduce the baking time and temperature to 20 minutes at 350°F. If you want a firmer rice, you can reduce the broth by 1/4 cup. You can use any type of white rice: Basmati, Jasmine, short grain, long grain, but not par-boiled "quick cook", such as as a boxed 2-minute rice.

For Coconut Rice:
   In the melted butter, add 1 tablespoon Thai Kitchen Roasted Red Chili Paste, and sautée minced shallots, garlic and rice. Exchange one cup coconut milk for one cup broth and add 1 tablespoon fish sauce. For garnish, add toasted coconut if you like, sliced almonds and thinly sliced scallions. Freshly minced herbs are a nice touch too, such as parsley, basil and cilantro. I sometimes like to add in small bites of freshly sliced pineapple - especially in the summer months and the menu is Thai. And lest I forget, black sesame seeds are fun thrown on top.

For Mexican Rice: 
   In the melted butter or hot oil, sautée minced shallots, garlic and rice. Exchange one cup salsa for one cup broth. I like to use Trader Joe's "Salsa Autentica", a medium-hot red salsa made with pureed tomatoes and chiles. If you want a slightly smoky flavor, you could add in 2-3 teaspoons adobo sauce from a can of Embasa Chopotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce. Peas, corn and diced carrots are nice add-ins, too. If you like, garnish with minced parsley or cilantro.

For Parmesan Risotto:
   Combine 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice with 4 cups simmering broth (vegetable or chicken). Cover with a lid and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the rice is al dente. Remove from the oven, add one more cup simmering broth, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 3 tablespoons of butter, salt to taste, a few generous grinds of pepper, and stir thoroughly for a few minutes until the rice is thick and creamy. Add defrosted peas and/or corn, if you wish. Stir once more and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

For Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto:
   Peel and finely chop 1 small yellow onion. Thinly slice 1/2 pound of mushrooms - button, shitake, or whichever you prefer. In a heavy saucepan - about 3 quarts - melt 2 tablespoons butter. Sautée the onion in the butter until translucent, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add 8 ounces sliced mushrooms and sautée until slightly reduced in size, about 5 minutes.
   Add 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice, and stir to coat the grains with the butter. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine, and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, 1 teaspoon saffron threads and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the rice is al dente.
   Remove from the oven, add one more cup simmering broth, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons of butter, salt to taste, a few generous grinds of pepper, and stir thoroughly for a few minutes until the rice is thick and creamy. Add whisper thin slices of radicchio or fennel, if you wish. Stir once more and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Sautée the onion, garlic, rice and mushrooms before adding broth.

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