To some of you, this is probably going to sound like a cheap catering trick. Most likely, it is. But when I asked my wife, the catering chef, how she thought I should make rice for 90 people for tomorrow's "Parents Night" dinner where I teach "food appreciation," she didn't hesitate. "Do it in the oven," she said.
She wasn't sure exactly how that should be done. For instance, at what temperature should the oven be set? I toddled around the internet for a few minutes and came up with a plan. The most important thing, it seemed, was that the liquid the rice was cooking in should be boiling before the pan went into the oven. Second, there should be a tight seal on the pan.
You may be wondering why there's a picture of Uncle Ben so prominently displayed here. Isn't the Slow Cook supposed to be exclusively about healthy, long-cooking, whole grain rice? To which I answer: Yes, the Slow Cook is about all those things. Except what I am cooking is Hoppin's John--the Low Country version of rice and beans--and Hoppin' John traditionally calls for white rice (originally grown in South Carolina). I was determined not so serve a gloppy, overcooked mess of rice to our parents. Hence, a chicken-shit resort to good ol' Uncle Ben and his converted rice. Hopefully, it would be true to the label and turn out "perfect."
So I dumped five pounds of rice (about 11 1/2 cups) into a large aluminum catering pan and covered it with 23 cups of a boiling broth made of water and smoked turkey necks. Notice, the cooking ratio is two cups water for every cup of rice. I sealed the pan with aluminum foil and put it on the middle rack of the oven pre-heated to 350 degrees.
Originally, I was counting on the rice being done in 30 minutes. I checked it, but there was still a lot of water in the pan. I checked it 15 minutes later and still it was not done. Finally, about an hour after first putting the pan in the oven, the rice was fully cooked and fluffy, almost spilling out of the pan. And it was, as advertised, not overcooked or gloppy but just as Uncle Ben had claimed: perfect.
So that's how you cook rice in the oven.
Okay, so this is not exactly how Hoppin' John is traditionally made. Usually the rice and beans are cooked together in a pork broth. But this is another catering shortcut: I used canned chickpeas and mixed them into the rice, seasoning with salt. Heretical, I know. Avert your eyes, all you purists! But for the shortcut artists out there, maybe this is helpful.