Rice can be tricky to make. I remember when I was little and was just beginning to try to cook in my mother’s kitchen, I asked her how to make rice. “Two cups of water for each cup of rice and some salt” was the answer I got. Obviously, following those instructions I ended up with gooey rice porridge and not the fluffy rice I was trying to make. What my Mom assumed was that I knew that you had to wash and rinse the rice, and check on it periodically to make sure that you have enough water. Later on I learned that brown and black rice absorb a lot more water than white rice, so making either of those will require a higher water ratio. In college, after many a rice disaster, I got a rice cooker, thinking that it would make things easier, and it did, yet what I wanted was to be able to make fluffy pilafs. Which meant that I would have to learn to make rice properly in a pot. The rest of the story is a bit long and someday I will post my foray into Uzbek plov where I finally succeeded at getting my rice just right.
However, here is a recipe that allows for a pretty wide margin for error in water/rice ratio. The rice is boiled until almost ready and then steamed in the oven, pretty much guaranteeing that you will end up with a rice dish that is cooked yet not gooey.
Another important point to note is the kind of rice you use. Basmati or any long grain variety is best if you are aiming for a fluffy pilaf where each grain can be separated out. Short grain varieties work better in a pudding or a porridge or a risotto.
2 cups of brown basmati rice
5 cups water, plus 1 cup for soaking saffron
1 pinch saffron
1 pinch salt
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries
Preheat oven to 375F
Wash the rice until water runs clear and add to the pot with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook until al dente, about 30 minutes. Add more water if needed. Remove from heat.
Add saffron an one cup of boiling water to a cup and let steep for a few minutes until the water is infused.
Melt the butter in a small dish and set aside. Soak cranberries in a cup of boiling water (or you can add water and cook in a microwave on High for a minute or two).
Place half of rice in a deep glass ovenproof dish. Add a layer of cranberries and half the butter. Repeat with another layer of rice, drizzle with butter, and add the saffron water.
Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven for 20 minutes. The steam from the saffron water will finish cooking the rice as well as infuse it.
I served it as a side for braised chicken with dried apricots and blueberries.