The Best Way to Cook Rice for a Crowd
Cooking rice can be a harrowing endeavor. But it shouldn't be.
All over the world, millions of people consume rice on a near-daily basis. It's a great staple, an easy canvas for a weeknight dinner, and yet, still a cooking challenge. Ignore it for too long and you have a scorched pot with a hockey puck of burned rice at the bottom, but if you don't let it cook long enough, you get unfortunately crunchy-centered rice, a not-great dining experience no matter how much you assure your dining companions that it's "just al dente."
Yes, there are methods to avoid this kind of confusion. The pasta method of cooking rice—in rice, rather than adding just enough water for the rice to absorb, you put the rice floating free in simmering water and drain it when it's done, like pasta—is a great way to cook grains. An electric rice cooker will eliminate your fears and doubts entirely, though, yes, it does take up precious kitchen space. But what if you're hoping to make a lot of rice, for a big dinner? There's only so much rice you can cook like pasta.
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The answer, friends, is to turn to our good friend, the oven. This is a trick I learned from Jason Lambert, the Chef de Cuisine of Toups South in New Orleans, who mentioned that he caught on to it thanks to catering gigs. When you're cooking a bunch of rice, you don't want to mess around with a finicky pot that you have to keep your eye on, or any other contraption. All you need is a casserole dish.
Pur the amount of rice that you want to make into the dish, then mix in a big pinch of salt and rougly double the volume of water as the volume of rice. (So if you're making one quart of rice, add in two quarts of water, depending on the kind of rice you're working with.) Cover the dish tightly in aluminum foil and put it in an oven at about 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes—until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Take it out of the oven and let the rice steam in the foil for another ten minutes or so before fluffing and serving.
That's it. You're done. You did it. And you didn't even have to touch the stove.