While rice is almost always cooked in water or stock as a side dish or in savory dishes, such as risotto, pilaf or casseroles, it is likewise almost always cooked in milk for sweet dishes, such as rice pudding. And while you cook most rice dishes on the stovetop, in a rice cooker or in the microwave, you need to cook rice puddings made with milk in the oven so the rice and milk meld together into a custardlike consistency.
Been There, Done That
In ancient times, recipes for rice cooked with milk appeared in medical books rather than in cookbooks for its nutritional value and ease of digestion. Later, recipes for sweet pudding made from rice cooked with milk appeared worldwide, from Persian sheer birinj, which the Prophet Muhammad ate when he ascended to heaven, to a rice pudding published by the Bureau of Home Economics of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1931.
Getting to Fabulous
Unlike other puddings and custards, rice puddings don't necessarily need eggs as binding ingredients. All you need for a four-serving size dish is 1 quart of milk, 1/4 to 1/3 cup of rice, depending on whether you want a dense or loose pudding, about twice as much sugar as rice and a dash of salt. The mix bakes in an oven heated to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir the pudding gently every 30 minutes for two hours. You'll know it's done when the pudding is thickened and the rice is tender.
Spice It Up
In the U.S., cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg are the seasonings of choice for rice pudding, with raisins added as well. In the Middle East, rosewater and ground cardamom are traditional, with chopped almonds or pistachios garnishing the top of the pudding. Chinese eight jewel pudding has eight types of candied fruit with honey set into the bottom of the dish. For any rice pudding recipe, brighten the flavor by adding a bit of lemon zest and lemon juice.
Ready for a Change
For an inventive American twist on rice cooked with milk, one recipe from 1832 for American Snow Balls calls for rice cooked with milk to be pressed around the outside of a peeled apple. The "snowball" is wrapped with linen, tied with twine and boiled for two hours. Cooking rice with coconut milk offers a more modern variation. Use coconut milk for all or some of the water when cooking rice for Asian-inspired dishes and cook the rice as you normally would.