Rice, Rice baby
November 11, 2008 9:25 AM   Subscribe

What's the secret to making delicious, restaurant-quality Mexican rice at home?

Mexican restaurants have delicious, light, fluffy rice. How can I reproduce this at home? Often times my rice will come out bland or sticky or just not that great. But I can make Asian rices with no problem!

The kind I like is typically pink/orange in hue, short grain, and contains little more than just rice. I'm not looking for something with a bunch of vegetables in it. I want plain, simple rice and pairs well with beans. It should look similar to this, and vegetarian friendly. I have a rice cooker.

What's the best type of rice to use, and what spices should I include (and when)? I'd like to avoid buying pre-packaged rice packets with the spices included.
posted by wordsmith to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
i would suggest rick bayless' recipie for authentic mexican rice. you can leave out the pea's and carrots if you do not want vegetables.
posted by phil at 9:40 AM on November 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm looking at the rice in your picture, and there's a place near my work that serves delicious rice that looks just like that. I always though it was light tasting, not oily or greasy. Then one day I saw them loading the rice "steamer" and after a scoop of rice, I saw a woman pour what appeared to be a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup full of oil into the vat. Now I have no idea how much rice that cooks, but 4 cups is a damn lot of oil. So I would assume that like with most delicious restaurant foods, the secret is fat. More fat than you would ever use at home.

That said, here's a decent recipe. The secret, as some of the reviewers say, is that you must follow the instructions and saute the uncooked rice in oil until the grains are translucent. I like this recipe, but not as much as restaurant rice!
posted by peep at 9:42 AM on November 11, 2008

If it's anything like the rice from persian restaurants I love, a heaping helping of fat will make your rice be more like a restaurant's.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:45 AM on November 11, 2008

Mexican rice is a pilaf -- brown the uncooked rice grains in oil and then cook in liquid (broth & tomato puree). Use a lighter oil like canola or corn, and make sure you get the rice a nice golden brown.

I normally use long grain white rice, I haven't like the texture as much when I've used shorter grains (though there are probably particular short grain varieties that work well, just not ones I've used).

For me, the key flavours in this dish are the tomato, cilantro and jalepeno. I use pureed tomatos with broth as the cooking liquid, and add the cilantro & jalepeno right at the end so their flavour doesn't cook out.
posted by kanuck at 9:46 AM on November 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Broth, too. Some sort of flavored broth really helps.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:47 AM on November 11, 2008

This is from Epicurious. Howver, basic "Mexican" rice isnt really any more complicated than rice with tomato sauce (or paste more likely) with some cumin added, plus the usual salt and pepper. It may also have onion and garlic salt/powder in lieu of the actual veggies.

My recommendation is dont go for the basic stuff - make awesome rice instead. Use the veggies, just chop them fine (or use a food processor). The added fresh flavor will be worth it. And roast your cumin seeds first and grind them fresh. Makes all the difference.
posted by elendil71 at 9:49 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lard. Seriously. Not many Martha Stewart type Spanish rice recipes are going to tell you to put that in there, but that's what the restaurants use.
posted by crapmatic at 10:03 AM on November 11, 2008

My ma's recipe; its all guess work.

melt some lard or bacon fat, say a half tablespoon ( vegetable oil WILL NOT DO)

chop some onion, kinda fine, and saute until translucent ( although I know some families that skip this and just toss half an onion in the boiling rice)

add rice, long grain is better, it doesn't turn to mush, and lightly brown, don't burn them kernels but give them some color.

Add tomato paste and saute briefly, until you can smell the tomato lets say, make it around a tblspn

add chicken broth to cover, homemade is better but whatever. add some salt to taste as well.

bring to boil then reduce to simmer until rice is done, if you run out of liquid add more.

its ok if there is a little too much liquid, you can cook it off or let it be.

If you want peas or carrots, toss in after broth is added. I should say I use chopped tomatoes it takes a LOT to give it that nice orange hue.

There is also the "yellow rice" made with annato that is very similar, not as tasty.
posted by Max Power at 10:11 AM on November 11, 2008 [19 favorites]

For spicy Mexican rice, add Tapatio sauce with the tomato paste.
posted by carsonb at 10:26 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've loosely followed this recipe and gotten some pretty passable spanish rice from my rice cooker.
posted by jrishel at 10:30 AM on November 11, 2008

Here's the Cook's Illustrated recipe. I've tried it with varying success. It's pretty good, but still not as good as the rice from the taqueria down the street. Some things remain a mystery, I guess.

Mexican Rice

Because the spiciness of jalapeños varies from chile to chile, we try to control the heat by removing the ribs and seeds (the source of most of the heat) from those chiles that are cooked in the rice. Use an ovensafe pot about 12 inches in diameter so that the rice cooks evenly and in the time indicated. The pot's depth is less important than its diameter; we've successfully used both a straight-sided sauté pan and a Dutch oven. Whichever type of pot you use, it should have a tight-fitting, ovensafe lid. Vegetable broth can be substituted for chicken broth.

2 ripe tomatoes (about 12 ounces), cored and quartered
1 medium onion , preferably white, peeled, trimmed of root end,and quartered
3 medium jalapeño chiles
2 cups long grain white rice
1/3 cup canola oil
4 cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime , cut into wedges for serving


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Process tomatoes and onion in food processor until smooth and thoroughly pureed, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary. Transfer mixture to liquid measuring cup; you should have 2 cups (if necessary, spoon off excess so that volume equals 2 cups). Remove ribs and seeds from 2 jalapeños and discard; mince flesh and set aside. Mince remaining jalapeño, including ribs and seeds; set aside.

2. Place rice in large fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until water runs clear, about 1 1/2 minutes. Shake rice vigorously in strainer to remove all excess water.

3. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed ovensafe 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan or Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat, 1 to 2 minutes. Drop 3 or 4 grains rice in oil; if grains sizzle, oil is ready. Add rice and fry, stirring frequently, until rice is light golden and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and seeded minced jalapeños; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in pureed tomatoes and onions, chicken broth, tomato paste, and salt; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cover pan and transfer to oven; bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring well after 15 minutes.

4. Stir in cilantro and reserved minced jalapeño with seeds to taste. Serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:36 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Max Power's recipe - my mom is Mexican, and that's almost exactly how she makes her rice. Yum!
posted by shrabster at 11:49 AM on November 11, 2008

Yep, Max Power's recipe is very similar to the tasty recipe I got from my mexican friend, except I use canned tomatoes instead of tomato paste, and that adds liquid too, so less broth. I think sauteing the rice to brown before simmering is key.
posted by robinpME at 12:06 PM on November 11, 2008

Rice Cooker Tip:
I live in Denver where cooking rice in a pan is more challenging than I would like so when I make rice like this I do all the sauteing in a pan and then transfer everything in the rice cooker to make it nice and fluffy and light.
posted by Kimberly at 1:26 PM on November 11, 2008

I eat very little lard, and when I am in North American it is a noticeable taste in commercial Mexican food. Subbing that in for oil is likely to give an earthier, piggier, tastier taste.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:31 PM on November 11, 2008

There are a million ways to make rice, but the secret to light, fluffy, orange-pink rice is using tomato juice instead of broth or water. If you're getting sticky, gloppy rice, it's probably because you've been using tomato paste or sauce mixed with water.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:17 PM on November 11, 2008

Contrary to what Max Power says, vegetable oil WILL do. My mom is from Pubela, and much of the food she makes is vegetarian friendly- her family was too poor to afford meat, so she grew up learning how to make lots of tasty food without it. She always uses corn oil, but canola works well also.

Frustratingly, my mom does not measure anything- she just knows when it looks right. I've developed a recipe by trial and error- you may need to tweak it to suit you.

2 cups long grain white rice
2 tomatoes
1 onion
2-4 cloves garlic (depending on your tastes)
2 cups broth

Puree the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a blender.
Saute the rice in 2 tbs oil over medium heat until chalky (some of it will brown).
Add tomato mixture, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Add broth and salt, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

The real key is frying the rice in oil- this is what makes the grains stay separate and fluffy. Also, frying the tomato mixture into the rice seems the key to getting a good depth of flavor- when I first started making this, I would just dump it in with the broth, but it never tasted right. When you make the rice this way, you don't need cumin or cilantro or any additional spices- not that I'm against making a dressier recipe once in awhile, but this is basic, tasty and easy.

To be authentic, you should add a scattering of frozen peas once the rice is done- cover and let it sit (off the heat) for about 5 minutes. Also, if you're not vegetarian, the best broth to use is chicken broth- my mom taught me to boil the chicken with an onion, 4 to 6 cloves of garlic, salt and a teaspoon or so of dried mint. The mint isn't noticable as a mint flavor, but adds an essential dimension to the flavor of the broth.

This rice makes the best breakfast ever when you lay an over medium egg on top- stab the yolk and let it mix with the rice. Mmmmmmm.
posted by andeluria at 11:59 AM on November 17, 2008

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