Mexican Rice

I've worked for years to figure out how good rice is made in restaurants. I like it in some restaurants, hate it in others (and I tend not to go back). I'm still working on it, but here's where I am right now. Don't over-do it with spices and aromates when the rice is only a back-drop to what you're really serving.

See also my lime-cilantro rice recipe, if you like that sort of thing.

The essence of rice as a side dish in Mexican cooking is pilaf, which is to say in my opinion that it's a) washed clear of excess starch (as a dust or detritus on the grains that would cause them to stick together upon being cooked), b) fried in oil before the addition of any liquid and c) cooked in a savory liquid like chicken stock.

You can put other stuff into the rice; I've seen it done often, but I would tend to refer to the product as arroz y cosas, and find it a case of gilding the lily: this is an accompaniment to what's your real dish (enchiladas, chili rellenos, tamales, etc.) and not a principal course. It will a) not please everyone and b) detract from the main course.

Ingredients (none is optional)

3 cups rice
6 cups water, piping hot
oil
1 tablet caldo de tomate
1 tablet caldo de pollo optional)
1 cup finely chopped white onion (optional)
kosher salt

Preparation

1. Rinse rice until water runs clear. Drain as well as possible in collander.

2. Sauté onion with the salt until translucent; reserve.

3. Place oil in hot pan (big enough to hold rice and liquid ingredients—it needs a good lid that fits reasonably tight).

4. Add rice to pan and stir in oil until most of the rice becomes pearly white. Add in caldo tablets, break them up and add onion; stir into rice.

This is the single most important step in cooking rice that will ressemble what you get at the restaurant: you cannot cook the rice in an oriental-style rice cooker and you cannot boil it.

5. Meanwhile heat liquid to very hot in the microwave.

6. Carefully pour the boiling water into the hot rice. Bring back to a boil, then cover and don't lift the lid thereafter. You can set a timer and put this into a 350° oven instead to avoid burning the bottom. This allows you to turn your attention mindlessly to other matters, but you'll need to figure twice as long to cook.

7. Remove lid, fluff rice and serve.


Old method

This was still not just right on. I prefer what I've got above for now.

Yield

4 servings per 1 cup of uncooked rice

Ingredients

3 cups rice
olive or canola oil
4½-6 cups chopped canned tomatoes and chicken stock
½ cup finely chopped white onion (optional)
3 cloves crushed, fresh garlic
½ tsp fresh-ground cumin
ground pepper
kosher salt
2 tbsp adobo sauce

Preparation

1. Rinse rice until water runs clear. Drain as well as possible in collander. You want it as dry as possible. You can let it drip drier if set aside a few hours until needed. You don't absolutely have to wash the rice; I don't when I'm in a hurry.

2. Place oil in hot pan (big enough to hold rice and liquid ingredients and it needs a good lid that fits reasonably tight) along with cumin. Clarify finely chopped onions, then add garlic and cumin. One of the points of adding the cumin now is to bloom its flavor in the oil. It might be a good idea to remove the onion, garlic and cumin so they don't burn in the next step.

3. Add rice to pan and stir in oil until most of the rice becomes pearly white.

This is the single most important step in cooking rice that will ressemble what you get at the restaurant: you cannot cook the rice in an oriental-style rice cooker and you cannot boil it.

4. Add adobo sauce to liquid ingredients, heat liquid to very hot in the microwave. Note that if you use tomatoes and their juice in your liquid, don't use very much.

5. Carefully pour the boiling into the hot rice, add back in the onions and garlic, plus addition stuff you want. Cover and don't lift the lid for a good 20 minutes unless you know you must add liquid. You can set a timer and put this into a 350° oven for 30 minutes instead to avoid burning the bottom. (Allowing you to turn your attention to other matters.)

If the lid of your pan lets too much water vapor out during cooking, you will need to compensate by increasing the amount of water.

6. Remove lid, fluff rice and serve.