Rice casseroles taste best when they're cooked using a moist cooking method. This means baking them in a covered casserole dish with plenty of liquid. You can remove the lid or foil during the last few minutes of cooking to allow any excess moisture to evaporate, but dryness is a much more common problem. Throw in your favorite meat and veggies for a complete meal.
Types of Rice
You can use almost any type of rice in a baked rice casserole, but each rice behaves slightly differently. Converted or instant rice has been parboiled so it cooks very quickly. In a casserole, you can expect it to cook within 30 to 40 minutes. Regular white rice has been polished to remove the bran and germ. Bake casseroles made with white rice for 50 to 60 minutes. Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice because the bran and germ are intact. It takes longer to cook, however, and you may need slightly more liquid. Wild rice, which is actually an aquatic grass, has a nutty flavor and takes the longest to cook -- 1 hour or more. Choose a rice based on your taste preferences, as well as your schedule.
When baking a rice casserole, you've got two problems to overcome. The first one is that of dryness. You can't control the temperature in the oven as easily as you can when rice cooks on the stovetop, so baked rice casseroles can come out dry. To overcome this problem, be sure to use enough liquid. For most types of rice, you'll use at least two parts liquid for every one part rice. For wild rice, use about two-and-a-half parts liquid. When in doubt, err on the side of adding more liquid. Cover the dish with a lid or foil to trap steam. The other problem worth noting is that of sticking. As the water evaporates, the rice may stick to the baking pan or even burn. Spray the casserole or baking dish with non-stick cooking spray before you add any ingredients to prevent this problem.
Jazz It Up
When you cook rice on the stovetop, you're usually going for a light, fluffy consistency and texture. When you make a baked rice casserole, though, you want something with a bit more heft. The best baked rice casseroles have very tender rice and a creamy sauce. Add a can of evaporated soup, such as creamy chicken or creamy mushroom soup, to make a sauce. You can also use heavy cream instead of canned soup or even a cheese sauce. Add vegetables, such as onions, celery, mushrooms, peppers or broccoli, as well as chopped chicken, browned sausage or whole boneless chicken breasts. Don't forget the seasonings. Season the casserole generously to taste, and add desired herbs, such as thyme, rosemary or dill. You can also stir in slivered almonds or chopped pecans.
Put It Together
The most basic recipes call for a dump-and-pour technique. Combine canned soup and flavorings, raw vegetables, meat and rice in a bowl, and dump the whole mixture in a baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid. However, for tastier, more predictable results, you can cook the rice on the stove ahead of time or use simmering liquid, rather than cold. Some vegetables, such as onions, celery and broccoli, can also be cooked ahead of time. Mix the ingredients together, and bake in a covered dish just until the casserole is bubbly and heated through. Cooked this way, the rice is completely tender and the dish is creamy and saucy.
Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."
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