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:
- 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.
- 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