Rice: Mexican Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana

Mexican Rice-ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Mexican rice, also called arroz a la Mexicana or arroz rojo, is a requisite when it comes to Mexican food.

In the States, it is a standard side served along with beans. In Mexico, it is one of the most popular sopas secas (dry soups), in a multi-course meal, typically served before the main course.

In case you’re confused, Mexican rice is different than Spanish rice, although some people use the names interchangeably. The Mexican version gets its reddish hue from tomatoes, while Spanish rice generally uses saffron.

Mexican rice was one of the first dishes I learned to cook that required a little skill in the kitchen – sautéing, boiling and steaming. Sounds tricky, but it really just requires keeping a watchful eye on the pot during the sauté.

I’ve been making rice for eons and only recently realized that the technique I learned from my momma, and she from her abuela, was considered a pilaf. In pilafs, the rice/grain is browned in fat before it is simmered in a flavored broth. This cooking process creates fluffy, flavorful rice that’s moist. It also gives it a faint smoky taste from browning.

As you’ll see from the ingredient list and the photos, I add vegetables to my rice. It’s the way my family does it and it’s also the way many in Mexico make it – cocineros add carrots, peas, zucchini and/or fresh whole chiles for flavor. However, if you add peas, promise not to use the canned stuff! Ewww.

Most of the time, I eat this rice with black beans, lots of fresh pico de gallo, and slices of avocado atop. (The pre-cursor to Chipotle’s® bowl.) Others usually eat it as a side dish. Try it with rajas and grilled chicken, caldo de res, mole poblano, and Mexican zucchini – calabacitas con elote.

Tidbits on Rice:

  1. Rice was introduced to Mexico via the Spanish during colonization via the Spanish trade route from Manila in the Philippines to Acapulco in Mexico. In Mexico, the route is referred to as the Nao de China.
  2. The length of rice grains should be considered for your desired end result. Long grain rice is fluffy and has separate individual grains after cooking, while medium grain rice clings together a bit more but remains a bit more tender and moist. Short grain rice tends to stick together and is best for things like rice puddings.

Sources:  Encyclopedia of Food & Culture; The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

Browning Rice-ForkfingersChopsticks

Mexican Rice - before after cooking - ForkFingersChopsticks

Mexican Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana

Serves 4

Rice: use long grain white rice as opposed to brown rice; sometimes I use jasmine rice. Note: this recipe does not require you to rinse or pre-soak the rice.

Cooking Pot: use a slightly wider, deep pot rather than a very narrow, deep one. This is especially true if you double or triple this recipe. If too deep and narrow, the steam does not distribute as well – you’ll likely find some half-cooked rice and also drier rice at the top. Experiment with your pots to find one that works best.


3 tablespoons oil (canola, vegetable or sunflower)

1 1/2 cups long grain [white] rice

1/4 onion, diced small

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 – 2 serrano chiles, cut in half lengthwise and de-seeded

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 carrots, diced medium

1 cup frozen corn, thawed (optional)

3 cups hot chicken stock, vegetable stock or water*

1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce**

1 – 2 teaspoons salt

*If using water, you may also add chicken bouillon – but adjust salt accordingly


  1. Prepare ingredients in advance – measure and chop onions and carrots.
  2. On medium-high heat, heat a medium-size pot (with a tight fitting lid), then add the oil. When oil is hot, add the rice; sauté and turn frequently so that the rice cooks evenly. When the rice is barely a golden color (after about 5 minutes of sautéing) add the onions; sauté for about 2 minutes. Then add the garlic, chiles, cumin, carrots and corn to the pot; sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly to avoid burning garlic.
  3. Carefully and slowly add the hot stock/water to the rice because it may spatter. Immediately stir in the tomato sauce. Add the salt, starting with 1 teaspoon; taste the broth (it should be a tad salty – but it will adjust as it is absorbed).
  4. Bring rice with liquid to a boil. Cover with a tight lid and reduce heat to a low simmer for 20 minutes. Avoid lifting the lid repeatedly. After 20 minutes, turn off heat and let rice sit covered for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.


**Tomato:  substitute tomato sauce with about 1/2 pound fresh tomatoes – skinned and pureed.

Vegetables:  peas, zucchini, green or red bell peppers.

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11 Responses to Rice: Mexican Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana

  1. Robin says:

    I’ve always wondered why the rice must be cooked in oil first.

    Andrea (FFC): The fat in the oils coats the grains and helps them separate while they cook. The end result, is flavored individual grains and not clumpy rice. Also, as I mentioned in the post, it also changes the flavor of the rice by toasting/browing it slightly. I think it makes the rice nuttier and a little smokey.

    Do you make your rice a different way? Some recipes/versions call for rinsing and/or soaking the rice first then sauteing in the oil.

  2. Chelby King says:

    When we made the rice it turned out great. Your photos are always so good. Thanks!

    Andrea (FFC): Thanks for leaving a comment Chelby. And, thanks for the positive feedback.

  3. I use chile powder instead of fresh peppers. I am not a fresh chile person—am always worried they’ll be too hot! I also throw a bay leaf in, and for some reason, celery always makes it taste more Mexican to me. I’ve had it in Mexico with celery.

    Andrea (FFC): Interesting, I bet the celery adds some nice contrasting texture. Re the chiles – I like spicy but not unreasonably hot. However, the chiles here primarily add aromatic flavor to the rice and do not impart much spicy heat. Leave them whole to reduce heat. You can substitute with chopped green bell peppers in lieu. Note, however, the whole or halved chiles are an extra treat for a guest who likes it picante and they add to the presentation.

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  6. boychucker says:

    Hey! I made your rice today and it was just what I wanted. None of my relatives will break it down into actual steps/measurements I can follow, so thank you for hooking me up with a recipe I can use from now on.

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  10. Karen says:

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