At least in central Texas, Spanish rice is ubiquitous. It comes with everything, from everywhere, and ranges from limp, pale tasteless concoctions to dried out and overly spiced disasters. Personally, I don’t know why some people have such difficulty with rice. Rice is one of the planet’s oldest cultivated crops and if it truly were so darn difficult to cook then I don’t imagine that entire civilizations would have been able to sustain themselves on it.
That being said, there are a few general rules to cooking the perfect rice.
1) Buy a quality rice. My brand of choice is Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice. I’ve never yet had this rice fail me.
2) Rinse your rice first. Rice, especially the stuff imported in the burlap or fabric bags, is dusted with everything from talc to cornstarch to keep the grains from absorbing liquid. So if you don’t rinse the rice and just cook it you’re bound for a gluey, sticky, disgusting mess.
3) Know the ratio. Generally, you cook rice with two parts water to one part rice. That’s for the on top of the stove with a lid on it. And it takes 20 minutes at a low, bare simmer. This is the formula for white rice. Other rices can take more or less time, more or less water.
4) Steaming is rice’s best friend. The last few minutes of cooking time should be with the heat turned off and the lid left on. This will encourage the rice to absorb the last of the liquid without overcooking the grains.
That being said, there are rice dishes and then there are RICE dishes. The following is one of my family’s all time favorite rice dishes.
Baked Spanish Rice
4 slices low sodium bacon, chopped fine
1 cup yellow onion, diced
½ cup green pepper diced
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, drained well. Save tomato liquid and combine with enough water to make 2 1/3 cups total
1 1/3 cup Uncle Ben’s rice, NOT minute rice
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1. Add your bacon and onion to a large frying pan and cook until the bacon is slightly crunchy and the onion is translucent. Turn off heat and remove most of the bacon fat from the pan.
2. Add the drained tomatoes to the onion bacon mixture, as well as the rice. Combine the reserved tomato liquid with enough water to come to 2 1/3 cups, then add to the rice mixture. Add the green pepper and turn the heat on and bring the mixture to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Pour the rice mixture into an oven proof dish and bake, covered with foil, at 350F for 30-40 minutes or until the rice is tender. Stir half way through cooking time. For the last five minutes remove the foil and top with the cheese. Let the cheese melt and serve!
This dish reheats like a dream, and freezes wonderfully. Enjoy!