Mexican rice, arroz rojo, flavoured and coloured red with tomatoes, onions and chillies. A perfect side to grilled meats or a filling for burritos.
A starchy side of fillers
Rice or potatoes? Potatoes or rice? They both are side fillers for the main course in northern Europe. You have your portion of meat/fish/beans/tofu/tempeh/protein plus a mound or two of vegetables or salad, and then there comes something to have ‘with that’. Filler, no more, when you look at it like this.
But both rice and potatoes can come into their own as a standalone dish, and what dishes they are able to make! Paella, risotto, tahdig, arancini, onigiri – that’s only the tip of the rice-berg. In the potato team: tartiflette, latkes, gnocchi, bubble and squeak, and a bushel more.
Potatoes vs. rice
But if we pile them on the side, are potatoes a more flexible ingredient than rice? They can be boiled and mashed, roasted and chipped. There are crisps, croquettes, hasselbacks, dauphinoise and boulangère – and that’s before I googled.
Rice on the other hand can be boiled, boiled or boiled, be it fluffy, glutinous or fried. Steaming is pretty much like boiling and even if you’re Persian and bake it in the oven, boiling must have happened at some point along its way.
On the other hand there are scores of rice desserts, not only Asian or Middle Eastern, while potato will repel sugar – and I’m ignoring those weird people who put sugar on latkes. Plus you can certainly fashion some sort of a bake out of rice flour (what?), while potato flour only thickens your sauce.
Mexican rice is cooked like pilaf
Pilaf is a cooking method and Mexican rice is cooked that way. It’s basically giving the rice a head start in hot oil with aromatics of choice, before you deluge it with water, stock or milk and leave to its own devices for half an hour or so.
Being Mexican, this one has tomatoes, chillies and coriander in it but I hear Mexicans are not as steadfast as, say, Italians about ‘the only way to cook’ their dishes (just an example, all right?!) so you can add peas, carrots and other little animals if you like. Or even change its colour from rojo to verde if you add in enough green chillies.
I like the pilaf way – it has action from the start but doesn’t turn into devastatingly boring stirring and stirring and ladling and stirring (risotto – I’m talking to you).
Anyway, to cap it all, we feature rice here with a little addition of diced potatoes, which is an authentically Mexican option as I understand – or at least as the Culinary Institute of America cooking bible states. And who says you can’t have everything?
How to make Mexican rice?
First thing to prepare is the tomato-onion puree. The riper the tomatoes, the better but the mix will not look very appetising. You can add the chilli to the blended mix or keep it chopped, separately.
You should have about a cup (250ml) of the puree.
The rice should be rinsed and drained, then toasted in hot oil until it starts to crackle. The tomato sludge goes into the pan then, sputtering and spitting, and should be cooked down until it is almost absorbed and the rice looks drier.
Water can now be added, as well as the sofrito ingredients – the base for a sauce or pilaf. In this case it’s a carrot, a small potato for texture, and frozen peas. If the chillies were not added to the blended mix, add them now.
Now it’s time to turn the heat right down, cover the pan with a lid and cook the rice like you would ordinary, perfect rice: for twenty minutes without peeking, plus a rest for ten minutes, also without peeking.
If you’re lucky, there will be a crispy bottom layer, like in a paella. But if there isn’t – well, you’ll just have to make this rice again, won’t you?
More rice recipes
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Easy dirty rice with minced pork and homemade Creole seasoning, a bomb of flavours and a healthy main course ready in about 40 minutes.
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