Mexican rice

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Growing up, we called it “red rice,”  and it was special because it was made in a pan instead of a small pot, and you put all kinds of stuff into it instead of just a bit of salt and a pat of butter like we’d do with plain white rice. Leftovers, if we manged any, were treasured, heated, and placed in tortillas with avocado, or, as I got older and lost my fear of chiles, some salsa.

As an adult, I realized it wasn’t the cleanest recipe. There was canned tomato sauce and a beef bouillon cube or two involved, and big, generous glugs of oil. I stopped making it myself and enjoyed it at taquerias in my burritos or as a side on my enchilada plate. A little taste of my childhood kitchen. And then…

Christmas 2017 brought me the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, and not only did I learn how to make pad thai at home, I found a clean and super delicious recipe for Mexican rice. Real tomatoes, a measured portion of oil…what?! I don’t know why I never thought to look up a recipe for this before! I could have been overeating this rice for the past 20 years! Better late than never.

Replacing those cans of tomato sauce was a simple puree of real tomatoes and onion. These are important flavors in the dish, so try to find some flavorful tomatoes. Ripe doesn’t automatically mean tasty. I’ve been buying the small but reliable Odoriko tomatoes for a past few months. I don’t know this year’s global warming schedule, so I’m not sure when to expect more variety of flavorful formerly-summer tomatoes. In the meantime, these are doing the job beautifully.

The most dangerous part of this recipe is the jalapeños. Have you ever touched a chile with your bare hands for a prolonged amount of time and then touched your face? Your eyes? I have. Once. It only takes once. Get your chile chopping protocol together, friends. I oil up my hands, put on some gloves, and then I move as fast as I can. It turns out that if you are deseeding and dicing chiles at lightening speed, sometimes liquid from the chile can spray up at you, onto your unprotected face, or into your eye. So, you need to find that just right speed in between too slow and fiery sprays. May the force be with you.

When I was a little kid, I was always floored at how this rice was made by frying dry grains of rice in a pan. And then you added all your liquid and it ended up like regular rice. The brown color from the frying disappeared. Science. Miracles. Grandma magic.

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While this rice starts on the stovetop, it ends up spending the majority of its cook time in the oven, and halfway through, you give it a stir. You might be tempted to say it’s done when you give it that stir. It’s pretty soft, tastes good (I couldn’t help myself), but stick it back in the oven. It’s not done. It’s a little too moist, and that’ll become obvious once you taste the finished product.

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Serve it as a side, eat it on its own, put it in your own burrito, and enjoy the leftovers!

Mexican Rice
Serves 6-8 (or 2 with great leftovers!)
Just barely adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2017

Ingredients
12 ounces ripe tomatoes,  cored and quartered (I just quarter them)
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
2 jalapeños, seeded and diced
2 cups long grain white rice
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
4 medium or large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (I love Better Than Bouillon’s No-Chicken Broth – tastes a lot like chicken broth without any animal products)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

How to
Place a rack in the middle position of the oven and preheat to 350°.

Process tomatoes and onion in a food processor until pureed, about 15 seconds. Pour the puree into a measuring cup. You should have 2 cups. If you ended up with more, pour out the excess. 2 cups is all you’ll need.

Carefully remove the ribs and seeds of the jalapeños, then dice. Set aside. Mince garlic. Set aside.

Rinse your rice in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Shake out all the excess water you can.

Heat the oil in an 12-inch diameter ovenproof pan (see note) or Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid over medium-high heat. You’ll know it’s ready after 1-2 minutes when a few grains of rice sizzle when dropped into the pan. Add all of the rice and fry until the it’s golden brown.

Once the rice is browned, lower the heat to medium and add the garlic and jalapeños, cooking until fragrant.

Add the tomato puree, broth, tomato paste, and salt. Increase the heat to medium-high  and bring it all to a boil. Place the cover on the pan and place in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes, then stir the rice. Cover and return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Serve when ready or keep the pan covered to keep warm.

Pan note: The 12-inch diameter matters so that the rice cooks evenly and in the time written in the recipe.

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