There’s an art to making Mexican rice. It’s where technique and tradition meet
superstition familial custom; long held recipes passed down from the sages of Mexican cooking: Las Abuelas. Maybe your Mom taught it to you; or a Tia showed you a secret to do it better. If you grew up like me, you wouldn’t be remiss to hear a rice ‘war story’ every now and again – that time when the world seemed to hinge on el arroz and someone didn’t put enough water or they didn’t fry the rice long enough. And the only one that could save it was your grandmother.
Arroz a la Mexican or Mexican rice is easy to make but at times difficult to get right. It requires patience, a general know-how and timing. Many a cultures’ history is intertwined with rice; how it’s made and the particularities attached. For Italians it’s risotto; for the Japanese it’s sushi rice. For Mexicans, its Arroz a la Mexicana – sometimes referred to as Spanish Rice (or Mexican rice).
In my family when we spoke of rice it was our default. Every other rice was qualified by it’s color. (White Rice, Yellow Rice, etc.). For us, rice was rice and it was always Arroz a la Mexicana.
Let’s get this out of the way now: No method for making rice is full-proof (and this can be said for any recipe, really) because of heating variables. No two gas (or electric) stoves will produce the same results because so much hinges on just how much heat. The important thing to remember is to watch the liquid level of the rice. Keep your rice covered as much as possible but don’t be afraid to lift the lid to have a peek. Or use a glass lid – that’s what I do. Just take a spoon and pull from the side to see where you stand liquid-wise and you’ll be fine. Just don’t stir.
I use achiote* powder in both my broth and my ‘tomato mixture’ to give my rice that familiar red hue; it imparts only a nominal flavor (in small quantities) and it’s optional but I always use it. Sometimes it can be hard to find and that’s understandable.
Note: Some cooks swear by a can of tomato sauce or chile de pato as their tomato component of the dish but I always (at least in this instance) go for fresh tomatoes because it gives it a fresh pop and I try to use fresh as much as possible.
Before we get started:
2. Sauteing your rice until it turns golden.
Full recipe and instructions below:
Arroz a la Mexicana; Mexican Rice
2 TBS Oil (I prefer canola)
1 Cup of (Medium Grain) rice
2 Cups of flavorful broth
1/2 tsp achiote powder (optional)
pinch of paprika
1 Cup (fresh) chopped Roma tomatoes (About two Medium)
1/4 medium onion
Few Sprigs of cilantro
1 clove of garlic
1 small jalapeno de-stemmed & seeded (optional – adds a little heat)
1 tsp achiote (optional)
pinch of cumin
pinch of salt
1/2 cup defrosted (frozen) green peas
3. Drain Rice thoroughly through a fine mesh strainer.
4. Heat oil in a Medium saute pan for 1 minute over Med-High heat.
4. Saute Rice in oil for 9 minutes** (stirring occasionally) or until golden brown.
7. Stir to incorporate.
8. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes. DO NOT STIR.
Y, A Asi No Mas! Buen Provecho!
*Achiote is ground annatto. It can be found in many Latin/Mexican markets. It is often in paste form – I usually opt for the powdered form.
** 9 minutes seems like a long time but, trust me it’s necessary. Just make sure that you’re stirring your rice enough not to burn but not too much that it’s not cooking properly. Waltz with your rice just don’t step on its feet!