Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Demystifying Mexican Rice

I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving! I did! My husband smoked our turkey this year and it turned out moist and flavorful, and it made the most delicious The Great-After Thanksgiving Turkey Enchiladas! Yum! The traditional accompaniment to enchiladas is rice, not any rice, Mexican rice. Traditionally, tomato based dishes are served with "Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)," and non-tomato based dishes, like Enchiladas Suizas, are served with "White Rice (Arroz Blanco)." Mexican rice should not be confused with the pre-packaged rice mixes labeled "Spanish Rice," loaded with dehydrated bits of bell pepper and tastes nothing like authentic Mexican rice.

Although I am not of Mexican heritage, I did spend a lot of my youth lingering in many Latina kitchens. The version of Red Rice I always saw was rice simmered in a tomato broth, enhanced with chiles and parsley or cilantro, and flecked with cheerful diced carrots and peas. The secret that all good Latina cooks know is to wash the rice in a colander under cool water until the water runs clear. In addition, some Latina cooks soak the rice in warm water for 5 minutes or so, then run the rice under cool water. I don't know why, but I just rinse the rice for Red Rice and soak and rinse for White Rice. Either way, Mexican rice is easy, seductively delicious, and perfect along any Mexican faire.

Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)

Serves 4-6


1, 15 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons chopped white onion (it must be white, not yellow!)
2 small garlic cloves
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup medium or long-grain white rice, rinsed in a colander until the water runs clear and drained (I like La Preferida or Texmati brands.)
2 cups chicken broth or water
1/3 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup peeled and diced carrots (diced to approximately the same size as the peas)
3 serrano chiles, slit down one side
6 fresh cilantro sprigs, tied together (or parsley, if you don't like cilantro - gasp!)
Kosher salt
Lime wedges, for serving


Put the tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a blender and process until smooth. Set aside. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmery. Add the rice and stir regularly until it just starts to change color and looks milky-white, about 5 minutes. Try not to allow the rice to brown. Add the tomato mixture and stir gently to blend. Add the chicken broth or water, peas, carrots, chiles, cilantro or parsley, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Taste the broth and add more salt if needed, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes.

Uncover and stir carefully so that all of the broth is mixed in (most will have been absorbed). Re-cover and cook until all the broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Before serving, remove the cilantro and fluff the rice with a fork. You can remove and discard the chiles if you like, or use them as decoration on top of the rice. Serve with the lime wedges to squeeze over the rice.

The rice keeps in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat it in a 350 degree oven with a sprinkle of water, covered, until heated through, about 30 minutes.

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