This recipe for Classic Mexican Rice is just as the name promises, classic. I have other recipes for Mexican Rice that are tasty but are not the rice we all expect at the real deal best Mexican restaurant in town. In my town (Salt Lake), that restaurant would be the Red Iguana, by the way. This rice recipe is simple and just right. A few key ingredients and one important cooking step will yield a tasty, flavorful accompaniment to any meal.
The rice needs to be long grain and though I use regular long grain rice in the pictures you see here, I prefer using Basmati rice most of the time. Basmati adds additional nuttiness to any rice recipe and retains a nice smooth bite, but that is personal choice. Brown long grain rice works well and Basmati also comes in brown version.
For traditional Mexican rice, the rice is usually fried until golden, which gives it so much flavor. I got my recipe from America’s Test Kitchen where they did all the testing of different methods for me and they recommend frying in a smaller amount of oil than usually used to ensure the rice isn’t greasy. The 1/3 cup used was spot on and after a few minutes in the hot oil, the rice turns a nice light golden color. Immediately following, garlic and jalapenos get added to the hot rice so their flavors can meld into the rice as well. Tomatoes and onions that have been processed until smooth are added for moisture and tastiness without being chunky. And a tiny bit of tomato paste adds nice color but also enhances the flavor of the dish. Once the rice has been fried and the veggies are added, a little broth to cook the rice to tender is poured in and the whole thing goes into the oven for about 30 minutes. Finishing in the oven ensures the rice cooks uniformly. Once the rice is tender, fresh cilantro and another jalapeno are added and a squeeze of lime juice provides brightness.
Fresh, colorful, and fool proof, if you haven’t made Mexican rice this way I highly recommend it. It’s excellent right out of the oven but it’s incredible the day after which is great news if you’re serving up a Mexican menu at a party, one last thing to tackle on the day of the event. We eat this often as a side dish but it also makes a satisfying snack with cotija cheese sprinkled over. Make it a full meal topped with leftover rotisserie chicken and pickled onions or peppers. This is one for your next Cinco de Mayo feast or weeknight family taco dinner.
Classic Mexican Rice is usually fried before adding any broth or liquid to further cook the rice. This method is incredibly easy, resulting in a rice that's perfectly fluffy, not soupy. Tomatoes and onions get pureed before adding to the rice so the flavor really gets into the rice. The jalapeno chiles add brightness and tang, not too much heat so be sure not to leave them out. If you're making a Mexican feast, feel free to make a day or two ahead of time. In fact, I recommend it so the flavors become even more pronounced.
- 2 tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 1 onion, chopped coarse
- 3 jalapeno chiles, divided
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 1/2 tsps salt
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
- Lime wedges
With oven rack placed in the middle position, preheat oven to 350F degrees. Process the tomatoes and onion in a food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds. Transfer mixture to a 4-cup liquid measuring cup and spoon off excess as needed, usually about 1/2 cup, until mixture measures 2 cups. (The excess tomato/onion mixture can be incorporated elsewhere in your menu like added to black beans before heating, etc. See notes for more ideas.)
Remove ribs and seeds from 2 jalapenos and discard; mince and set aside. Mince the remaining 1 jalapeno, leaving the ribs and seeds in it and set that one aside separate from the first 2 without the seeds/ribs.
Heat the 1/3 cup oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Drop 3 or 4 grains of rice into the oil; if grains sizzle, oil is ready. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. The oil will become quite "fizzy", which is normal.
Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic and the 2 seeded jalapenos and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in tomato-onion mixture, broth, tomato paste, and salt and bring to a boil. Cover, transfer pot to the oven and bake until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring well after about 15 minutes.
Remove pot from oven and fold in cilantro and the last jalapeno, the one with the ribs and seeds (This will not be too spicy but if you want to add half the jalapeno, by all means). Serve with the lime wedges.
- The excess tomato and onion mixture is great added to other parts of your menu if making a Mexican feast. Add to canned, drained black beans in a small skillet and season with chili pepper, cumin and jalapenos. Heat and serve. If you're making meat or vegetable fajitas or tacos, the mixture adds just that much more flavor.
- Do not skip the tomato paste or try to substitute tomato sauce, etc. I've done that when I was out of paste and the flavor is more flat and bland. Tomato paste adds just the right tang the recipe needs.
- Though pre-frying the rice before baking creates a wonderful taste and texture in the dish, you can reduce the oil to about 1/4 cup and just cook everything in a 9x13 glass baking dish. Make sure to butter the glass dish before baking. The flavor will be different and not as classic but is still delicious.
- Experiment with a few other add-ins before baking your rice. Sliced green Manzanilla olives are incredible. Also try 1 cup black or pinto beans, or uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp.
- This rice is even better the next day so Classic Mexican Rice is a good one to make the day before serving to save time or just to have on hand during the week.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen The Best Mexican Recipes.