Published September 1, 2004.
'Arroz a la Mexicana' promises bright flavor and a pilaf-style texture, but it rarely delivers.
Results can sometimes be soupy and greasy, or overpowered by individual ingredients such as tomato or cilantro.
A cursory look at Mexican rice reveals a simple pilaf prepared by sautéing raw white rice in oil, then slowly cooking the grains in chicken broth flavored with pureed tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Some cooks finish the dish with a sprinkle of fresh chiles and cilantro. The perfect version of this dish would exhibit clean, balanced flavors and tender, perfectly cooked rice. It would be rich but not oily, moist but not watery.
Texture is the backbone of this dish. Rinsing the long-grain white rice and sautéing it until toasted brown in canola oil before adding the cooking liquid produced superior grains. The texture of rice is reached by properly balancing the grain-liquid ratio. Results confirmed that equal portions of chicken broth and fresh tomatoes were ideal for a flavorful liquid base, which, coupled in a 2:1 ratio with the rice and some tomato paste (and a mid-cook stir through the mixture to reincorporate the tomato mixture) produces just the right flavor, color, and texture. The garlic and jalapeños, meanwhile, fared best sautéed and then combined with a raw puree of tomato and onion. More than a garnish, fresh cilantro, minced jalapeno, and squirt of fresh lime juice complemented the richer tones of the cooked, tomatoes, garlic, and onions.list of recipes