Mexican Red Rice Recipe
Here in the United States, Mexican red rice and beans (either whole or refried) are the ubiquitous side dishes when serving Mexican food, and for good reason. They’re delicious, filling, inexpensive, easy to make, and the perfect companions for rich and spicy tacos, carnitas, fajitas, carne asada, enchiladas, flautas, chimichangas, burritos and tamales. Dump those overpriced instant rice box mixes. This is a tasty, economical side dish that can be made with no advance planning, in just a few minutes, using pantry items, and can also be made in advance and refrigerated if you’re having a Cinco de Mayo party. I’ve also included alternate instructions for vegetarian rice, if you want to use brown rice, and if you need to make sure your dish is gluten free.
Pressure Cookers, Chiles and Capsaicin. Capsaicin is the naturally occurring substance that gives chile peppers their heat and “pungency”. I’ve noticed that I seem to get more “heat” out of the same amount of chile peppers cooked in the pressure cooker than I would through conventional methods. Initially, I attributed this to the pressure cooker’s ability to quickly infuse flavors together and to the solubility of capsaicin in fat and/or alcohol, however, after doing some research, I found a third possible explanation. On Food and Cooking says that “The active ingredients of chillis and black pepper become significantly volatile only at high temperatures, above about 140° F / 60° C. . .” and that “[h]igh temperatures make volatile chemicals more volatile, so heating herbs and spices liberates more of their aroma molecules and fills the air with their odor.” Increased volatility means increased aroma and flavor.
At high pressure, a pressure cooker will approach 250° F (120° C), well above the temperatures required to increase the volatility of the capsaicin. Moreover, as a largely closed cooking environment, where relatively little of the contents escape the pot during cooking (including aromatic and flavor compounds) compared to conventional cooking methods, it seems logical that less of the capsaicin will evaporate as well. So when using chile peppers in your pressure cooker, start conservatively: use less than you normally would. If you don’t quite get the desired level of heat, add more diced chiles at the end. This particular recipe is intended to be fairly mild, to contrast with a more spicy main dish, and so that its kid and family friendly, but if you want more heat, you can use Diced Tomatoes with Hot Chiles (Habaneros) or just add an additional tablespoon or two of diced Anaheim peppers to the pot before cooking.
Pressure Cooking Rice. Since it only shaves a few minutes off conventional cooking methods, you may wonder if pressure cooking rice is worth it. You won’t wonder after you’ve tried it. You can’t beat the convenience of letting the machine do all the work and being able to ignore it until the timer goes off (and unlike rice cookers, my pressure cooker has a nonstick pot, so no soaking and scraping rice off the bottom of the pot, either). For another, you get incredibly consistent results, time after time. I know exactly how much liquid to add, and how long to pressure cook the rice, and every time the rice comes out piping hot, every grain evenly and thoroughly cooked, exactly the consistency I want. And for this recipe specifically, not only does pressure cooking extract and integrate the flavor of the diced chile pepper into the dish as mentioned above, pressure cooking brings out the flavors of tomatoes in a way I’ve never been able to achieve any other way, and it mellows out and removes the pungency from garlic as well. If you want to be healthier and use brown rice, the advantages are even more clear: not only will you save a lot of cooking time, but your results will be much better: the brown rice will be fluffier (literally, it will have more volume), tastes lighter, it will be more evenly cooked, and there won’t be any crunchies. (With the slight color change because of the tomato, your family might not even realize you’ve served them brown instead of white rice.)
Can I Double This Recipe? As long as you have at least a 6 quart pressure cooker, you should be able to double this recipe. My father’s family lived in Mexico City for several years when he was a teen, which makes him the family authority on Mexican food, and he insists that Mexican red rice should be “dry”. In order to achieve that kind of dry texture, I’ve designed this recipe to use as little liquid as possible. However, doubling the volume of food in the pressure cooker will also mean the machine will take longer to come up to pressure. The rice begins absorbing water before the machine reaches pressure, and if that length of time increases, the amount of liquid absorbed also increases. In order to have enough water to properly operate your pressure cooker (and cook the rice properly), add an extra cup of broth or water when doubling the recipe.
SHOPPING TIPS: Its easy to get a good deal on rice: buy a big bag from a store like Costco or Smart & Final. If you want brown rice, buy from the bulk bins at stores like Sprouts / Henry’s or Whole Foods – their stock turns over more frequently, and the brown rice is probably fresher. Store unused brown rice in the freezer (brown rice is a whole grain, and contains oils which can go rancid quickly if not stored properly). You can buy bags of whole garlic for a few dollars at Costco. The best time to stock up on broth is a few weeks before Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas. The most “expensive” ingredient are the diced tomatoes and green chiles, but you can get an even better deal. Check the sales flyers for your local stores starting in early April and through the summer months: lots of Mexican pantry items go on sale in the weeks leading up to Cinco de Mayo, and during late spring and summer there’s an abundance of cheaper, domestically grown tomatoes and chiles on the market. And don’t be afraid to purchase pantry items online in bulk: at the time I write this, Amazon has a really good price on a 24 pack of Ro-Tel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles and on the 12 pack of Hatch Diced Tomatoes and Chiles. For those who want organic items – since both tomatoes and chile peppers are on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” List for Pesticides – Muir Glen has Organic Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies (you’d either need to be a prime member or purchase $35 worth of merchandise to avoid shipping charges, but its not hard to find other discounted items to add to your purchase).
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, butter or margarine
2 cups of medium or long grain rice
1 – 15 oz. can of broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)
1 – 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
(mild, original or medium)
1 head of garlic
1 – 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
Meat Mallet (optional)
Quart size Ziploc bag (optional)
Spatula or wooden spoon
- Open your cans of broth and diced tomatoes so they’re ready to go. Add 2 tablespoons of your choice of vegetable oil, butter or margarine to your pressure cooker. If you’re using butter or margarine, with the lid off, set the machine to SAUTE and melt the butter before adding the rice.
- If you are using vegetable oil, you can add the rice immediately. If you are using either butter or margarine, add 2 cups of rice as soon as the butter has melted. (You can rinse the rice beforehand if you want to remove excess starch on the surface of the rice, but this is not mandatory.)
- Thoroughly stir the rice grains to coat all of them with a very thin coat of the butter, margarine or vegetable oil.
- If you have not already done so, set the electric pressure cooker to SAUTE and turn it on. With the lid off, lightly toast the rice for a minute or two, stirring constantly to keep the rice from over-toasting. The rice should just become slightly transparent, or have just a slightly toasted color, you’re not trying to “brown” it like a roux. After a minute or two, turn the machine off and immediately begin adding your canned ingredients (to keep the rice from browning too much).
- Add one 15 ounce can of broth and one 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes and chiles (including liquid) to the pressure cooker pot. (This may seem like too little liquid to you, but you’re losing very little water to evaporation and the vegetables actually provide a surprising amount of liquid.) If you are using brown rice, add an extra ½ cup of broth or water. If you have a jiggle top pressure cooker, I’d recommend adding an additional ¼ – ½ cup of water or broth to the pot (to allow for the greater loss of water in jiggle top models).
- Break apart a head of garlic, peel the individual cloves, and then either mince or crush the individual cloves. I place a garlic head in a quart size Ziploc bag, seal it to keep the cloves from flying, lightly whack the whole head with the smooth side of a meat mallet to break the cloves apart. I then lightly whack the individual cloves, just enough to loosen the skin from each clove, not enough to pulverize. I then remove everything from the bag, discarding everything but the skinned garlic cloves, trim off just the brown tip of the stem end of each clove, and then either chop them into rough, small pieces with a chef’s knife, or crush them. To crush them, I roughly chop the cloves into larger pieces, add the pieces back to the bag, seal it, and then use the flat side of the meat mallet to crush the chopped pieces.
- Add the minced / crushed garlic to the pressure cooker pot (in retrospect, I would chop it a little more finely than I did in this picture). If you are using brown rice, and want to add a little more color to “hide” the fact that its brown rice from picky or nutrition-adverse kids or spouse, add a small amount (try 1 tablespoon at first) of tomato paste to the pot. The tomato paste will give a more pink/red tint to the rice, but if you add too much, it’ll create a much stronger tomato taste and a “wetter” texture. Give the ingredients a quick stir to incorporate, and lock the pressure cooker lid in place.
- Pressure cook the Mexican rice for 3 minutes at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE. If you are using brown rice, increase the time under pressure to 10 minutes. Once the timer goes off, turn off the “keep warm” setting and use your tongs to turn the pressure release valve. When pressure has been released unlock and remove the lid, holding it with the top side facing you, at a tilt (with one side facing up, another side facing down, like a shield) to allow any steam or hot water to dissipate or fall back into the pot.
- If you are eating the rice right away, fluff and mix it with a fork to help keep the grains fluffy and separate, then serve immediately. If you are making the rice ahead of time, remove the pot from the pressure cooker to allow the rice to cool as quickly as possible. Refrigerate.
- Reheating Instructions: The rice will have undergone retrogradation under refrigeration (it will have hardened somewhat), this is normal, and can easily be reversed. If reheating a small amount of rice, you can add a small amount of additional water and microwave, or heat in a skillet over low heat. If reheating party size quantities, its probably easiest to store the cooked rice overnight in the refrigerator in Disposable Aluminum Foil Steam Pans (covered), then remove the pans, add a small amount of water, stirring the Mexican rice to incorporate, and heat in a low oven (300° F / 150° C) until thoroughly heated through.
TO RINSE OR NOT TO RINSE: When making plain white rice, if you want the grains to remain separate and not stick together, you would rinse the rice in cold water before cooking. Rinsing your rice isn’t required for this recipe for two reasons: first, coating the grains with a thin coat of fat and then toasting them helps prevent the loose starch from the surface of the rice grains from being released and causing the grains to become sticky, and second, the tomatoes and tomato juice provide a slight acidity to the cooking liquid, which helps reinforce plant cell walls (prolonged cooking of starches with acids can actually have the opposite effect, lowering the temperature at which gelatinization takes place and breaking apart the starch molecules, however the cooking times involved here are relatively brief). Rick Bayless points out in Authentic Mexican that rice is “sprayed with a water-soluble coating of vitamins”, some of which would be lost by rinsing. So if the importance of the texture of the rice outweighs the additional benefit of the added vitamins, go for it, otherwise, save the effort. With brown rice, the answer is more definitive: The Science of Good Cooking states “What about rinsing brown rice? Our tests showed no benefit (or harm). Because the bran is still intact, brown rice doesn’t have starch on its exterior. So rinsing doesn’t accomplish anything – except for wasting time and water.”
PRESSURE COOKING GARLIC: If you’ve checked out other recipes of mine, you’ll know I frequently add a whole head of garlic to dishes. This may seem excessive, but the pressure cooker retains the flavor of garlic, while mellowing its pungency. Pressure cooked garlic is very mild, just like roasted garlic. In most cases, I use whole garlic cloves, however, in this case, I mince or crush the garlic into smaller pieces in order to compensate for the very brief cooking time and to ensure that the garlic is evenly distributed in the rice.
KIDS AND SPICY FOOD: As long as you use a diced tomato with green chiles labeled “original” or “mild” or even “medium”, this dish should be mild enough that even younger children can enjoy it (although obviously, with infants and toddlers you should check with your pediatrician, if for no other reason than the salt content). I read somewhere that your taste buds peak at age 8 or so, and thereafter, your taste buds die off and are not replaced. Younger kids have far more taste receptors than adults do and therefore are much more sensitive to spicy food than we are (I myself couldn’t eat black pepper until I was in my twenties.) If your child feels the food is too spicy, there are two ways to allow them to enjoy the food: first, let the spicy food cool to room temperature, second, serve the food with a glass of milk or a dollop of sour cream. Warmth generally increases the pungency of spices (this is why you add larger amounts of spices to dishes like pate, which are served cold). Milk and sour cream contain casein, which binds with the capsaicin and prevents it from reacting with our taste buds.
RICE SAFETY TIP: Cooked rice that isn’t consumed immediately should be cooled and refrigerated as quickly as possible. On Food and Cooking explains: “Cooked rice turns out to be a potential source of food poisoning. Raw rice almost always carries dormant spores of the bacterium Bacillus cereus, which produces powerful gastrointestinal toxins. The spores can tolerate high temperatures, and some survive cooking. If cooked rice is left for a few hours at room temperature, the spores germinate, bacteria multiply, and toxins accumulate. Ordinary cooked rice should therefore be served promptly, and leftovers refrigerated or frozen to prevent bacterial growth. The rice in Japanese sushi is served at room temperature, but the surface of its cooked grains are coated with a flavorful and antimicrobial mixture of rice vinegar and sugar.” This tomatoes in this recipe do provide a small amount of acid, but caution – and prompt refrigeration – are still called for.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, butter or margarine
- 2 cups of medium or long grain rice
- 1 – 15 oz. can of broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)
- 1 – 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles (mild, original or medium)
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 – 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
- Open your canned ingredients so you have them ready as soon as you need them. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil / butter / margarine to the pressure cooker. If using butter or margarine, with the lid OFF, set the machine on SAUTE, and melt it before adding the rice.
- Don't let the butter / margarine brown. As soon as it has melted, add the rice. (If you're using vegetable oil, you can add the rice immediately.) You can rinse the rice beforehand if you wish, but its not required.
- Stir the rice grains until they are all thoroughly coated with a thin layer of your fat.
- If you haven't already done so, set the pressure cooker to SAUTE and turn it on. With the lid OFF, sauté the rice for a minute or two until it is toasted. The rice should become slightly opaque, or a very lightly toasted color, you don't want it to turn brown. Once the rice has toasted, turn the pressure cooker off and start adding the canned ingredients immediately.
- Add 1 can (15 oz.) of broth and 1 can (10 oz.) of diced tomatoes and green chiles to the pressure cooker. If you are using brown rice, add an additional ½ cup of broth or water. If your pressure cooker is a jiggle top model, add ¼ - ½ cup of additional broth or water.
- Crush or mince an entire head of garlic. See Step 6 above, if you would like to see my method for doing this quickly.
- Add the crushed/minced garlic to the pressure cooker. (If you need to disguise brown rice from your family, you can add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to give the rice a stronger pink/red tint.) Give everything a quick stir, and lock the lid.
- Pressure cook for 3 MINUTES at HIGH PRESSURE using QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE. (If you are using brown rice, increase the cooking time to 10 minutes.) When the timer goes off, turn the machine off and use your tongs to manually release pressure. As soon as pressure has been released, unlock and remove the lid.
- If you are eating the rice now, fluff and mix it up with a fork. Add additional salt and/or pepper to taste. If you are making the Mexican rice in advance, remove the insert from the pressure cooker and allow it to cool completely before fluffing and mixing it. Refrigerate as quickly as possible.
- Reheating Instructions: If you're reheating a small amount of rice, add it, plus a small amount of cold water to a skillet and reheat over low heat. For enough rice for a party, store it, covered, in Disposable Aluminum Foil Steam Pans. Stir in a small amount of cold water and re-heat at 300° F (150° C) until thoroughly heated.
VEGETARIAN MEXICAN RICE: You can use vegetable oil instead of butter or margarine and vegetable broth instead of chicken or beef. This rice is intended to be a mild side dish, but if you want to spice it up further, you could add an extra tablespoon (or more) of diced green chiles, a few dashes of Tabasco sauce, or some dried red chile pepper flakes.
GLUTEN FREE MEXICAN RICE. Both rice and garlic are gluten free. What you need to check are the canned goods. Of the three brands I mentioned in my Shopping Tips above, at the time I write, the Ro-Tel and Hatch diced tomatoes with green chiles appear to be gluten free. The organic product from Muir Glen specifically states on the back of the label that its gluten free (and I've contacted them and asked for confirmation that this is still the case). If you are using a different brand, here's two handy lists of Safe Gluten Free Ingredients and Unsafe / Gluten Containing Ingredients that I use to check for glutinous ingredients. You also need to check the broth, some kinds of broth can contain wheat derivatives. Here's a link to a list of Campbell's U.S. Gluten Free Products.