Sunday, January 20, 2008

¡arroz, por favor!

whenever my friend, aymee, from mexico, shows up for a visit every several years, i know it'll be a feeding frenzy, lots of sangria and tons of gossip. this visit was no exception but unfortunately because of a tight schedule, time was cut short. this meant little opportunity for our regular lounging around not caring about time. aymee's visits are fun because she is a great cook and knows a lot about mexican cooking both traditional and 'new'. maybe it helps that she was also trained as a professional chef de cuisine!

coming from a jewish family, many of the foods she & her family ate had to be tailored as cerdo or pork and its by-products play a big role in mexican food. a traditionally common ingredient used as a cooking fat has been lard. since this doesn't fit in with the jewish way of cooking, the natural alternative has been to use rendered chicken fat, or schmaltz, which is a good analog. this was used a lot in her family's cooking as for example in the following staple recipes.

an easy to make (side) dish, and one which is eaten regularly in many parts of mexico — even as a main dish, is arroz al estilo mexicano or mexican style rice. aymee's way of doing it is pretty much the same as what i have here which is a fusion of her way and a recipe i have used as a guideline for many years (from the art of mexican cooking).

there are many kinds of rice dishes in mexico and all manners of cooking it. the rice here is cooked like you would with a risotto and not the "american way" of dumping everything in all at once. all is done without using a lid until the final moments where the remaining liquids are drawn up by the rice, leaving you with a tasty arroz you will really enjoy.

arroz al estilo mexicano

makes enough for 6 to 8 servings


12 oz or 1.5 c long grain white rice

1 heaped c tomatoes, chopped
2 large cloves garlic
1/3 c chopped onion
1/4 c water + 2 tsp oil (see note in recipe)

1 dried chili of your choice (opt)
i use either an ancho or pasilla

5 tbsp chicken fat (shmaltz) or veg oil

28 oz or 3.5 c chicken or vegetable broth or water

1/2 c frozen or fresh peas

1 - 1 1/2 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp or more cumin powder (opt)


soak the rice for 12- 15 minutes in hot water.

while letting it drain well, continue with making the paste you will need to add to the rice. if you like, place the rice on a clean tea towel and spread it out to air dry. it should not be "wet" when you need it for the second stage of the recipe (frying the rice).

chop and measure the tomatoes, onion and garlic.

place in a blender or food processor. if using fresh tomatoes that are not very juicy then add the water and 2 tsp oil and process until it is a smooth paste which is an orangey-red colour. some tomatoes need the extra liquid, others don't. if using canned tomatoes, you won't need it most likely. (try to use fresh). add a little extra water ONLY if absolutely necessary to blend the mixture. set aside.

in a good pan, which has a lid, place the chicken fat or oil. heat it over medium heat. if using the dried ancho or pasilla chili, add it now. cook it on both sides until it softens and becomes puffed up. remove and add it to the broth for later.

add the rice and let it cook until lightly golden brown. make sure to keep stirring. if the rice is wet, chances are it will stick.

when it is ready, add the paste you made all at once. cook it until it is completely mixed with the rice and any moisture evaporates and gets absorbed by the rice. your paste may not be as thick as mine is, don't worry about it. i don't add much water to the paste when grinding it.

add the broth (with the chili if using) in 3 additions so the rice will cook through slowly:

1st addition — add about 3/4 c. don't concern yourself about being so exact. cook it until it is completely absorbed.

2nd addition — add half of what is left of the broth and cook again, stirring all the time, until it absorbs and you see it bubbling and "asking for more". add fresh peas now (frozen in next stage).

3rd addition — add the rest of the broth, stirring. add the salt, pepper and cumin (if using). add the frozen peas at this point. cook until the liquid is absorbed and there are lots of holes visible. there should still be some liquid but it will be kind of thick.

turn the heat down to a complete minimum. place the lid on the rice and cook it for about 7 to 8 minutes. take a peek half way through to see if it needs the full time. test a grain or two at this point to see if it is cooked.

remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit another 10 minutes. the rice grains need to stabilize and firm up.

stir well. taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

garnish with cilantro or flat leaf parsley. you can serve this with quartered hard boiled eggs also.

¡buen apetito!


Blair said...

¡buen provecho!
Looks yummy...
When I lived in Mexico, at least where I specifically was (in the state of Jalisco), we called this Spanish Rice.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I love Mexican food! It is so colorful and tasty...

Your Arroz looks very good! I could eat such dishes on a daily basis!



burekaboy — said...

hi blair :) - LOL, my friend told me NOT to call it spanish rice or she'd kill me! no se porque pero me dijo es mejor decir arroz a la mexicana y no "spanish rice". ok..... tastes great whatever you call it! hope you're well. belated happy new year!

rosa - colourful it is ;) i can eat the whole thing (on a daily basis) too.

Anonymous said...


Do you think this could be made in a rice cooker or would that ruin it?

burekaboy — said...

titus - hi. i'm sure it will work in the rice cooker. i've seen recipes for it using one. just make sure to use long grain rice. you'll either obviously have to do the frying of the rice in a pan first and then transfer it to the cooker. i'd also add the tomato sauce part just after frying and cook it for a few minutes until the rice absorbs the liquid. if there's a bit left over that's fine. just transfer all to the rice cooker at that point. hope you like it, if you give it a try.

Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

Woho! I am positive I asked you for this once... in any case I am very grateful, because Mexican rice is one of my major cooking blind spots. And since you have helped me through others I am sure you will do the same again now. Gracias!

Anonymous said...

there is a MUCH simpler way to make mexican rice.

fry 1 cup long grain rice in a tbsp of oil

brown the rice
add chopped onions and brown a little more

pre boil 1 and 1/2 cups water, add 1/2 cup of bought or homemade tomate sauce

add to rice, it should sizzle when adding

bring rice to a simmer

(you can add veggies at this point too)

add garlic, cumin, paprika, diced tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste

throw in 3 long stems of cilantro with the leaves attached

cover with a tight fitting lid

when water appears to be gone, pull off the flame and let it sit to continue steaming through

the finished product is cooked but not mushy

the cilantro will be right on top, it looks cool on the top of rice :)

This whole process will take about 20 minutes from beginning to end

Wish i had some pictures for you, sorry.

-amber from McAllen, Tx (10 miles from mexico)

burekaboy — said...

hi amber - thanks for the information and taking the time to write out the recipe. it sounds extremely good and easy to do; will give it a try :))