Some food, some drink.
Mexican restaurant-style rice at home.
If you dig that 'orange rice' that seems to be synonymous with the Mexican restaurant dining experience, there's no need to go out to get it. I've concocted a version that's easy to prepare, cheaper than buying the box stuff, and needs only six ingredients.
I really don't get it. There was a time when nobody in my house would eat rice, yet when we'd go out for Mexican food, the whole family would devour all the rice we were served. Hell, my wife usually orders double. What is so awesome about Mexican restaurant rice? Most of the time, I think it's pretty blah, and I usually only find myself eating it because I paid for it, and because it serves as a delivery vehicle to help finish whatever fell out of a tortilla. As the stuff has no real flavor, it must be that orange color that entices folks to consume it. After all, it's got color; and that color has to taste like something, right?
In an effort to get my family to eat more grains less-processed, I took a stab at reproducing Mexican restaurant rice. In the time it takes to throw together the rest of your family's taco night, this rice more or less cooks itself. In this instance, the secret to that trademark orange color that no one seems to be able to do without is (drum roll, please) - bottled taco sauce.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Add garlic and oil to a 3-4 qt pot. Steep on medium heat until the garlic just starts to sizzle. Stir in rice. Continue on medium heat 10-15 minutes until the rice starts to brown, stirring every two or three minutes. Stir salt and taco sauce into the water and add to the rice (mind the steam!). Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer on low for 20-25 minutes. Let sit for at least another 10 minutes covered off the heat before serving.
- On the subject of taco sauce: use whatever you like. I use the smooth, mild stuff. Just make sure that it's red and contains some vinegar. That 'something' that's often missing from poorly-seasoned rice is almost always an acid.
- Don't skip the browning. It gives the rice a nutty flavor and creates a nicer texture in the finished product. It takes a little more time, but it's the only time you're gonna need to mess with this stuff while it cooks, so show a little love. It's also important that the garlic is added to the cold oil so that the garlic steeps its aromatic goodness into the oil and doesn't brown or burn. Once the sauce, water and salt go in (watch the steam!), lid up, move the heat to low and walk away. You wanna know why rice cookers work so well? They force cooks to keep their noses out of the pot, which for perfectly-cooked rice is a must. Once the prescribed time has elapsed, I usually go so far as to let the pot rest on the burner as it cools down for at least another ten minutes.
- If you have a problem with rice sticking to the bottom of your pan, two things are happening. First, you're not really simmering on low. Second, You're not letting your rice rest. In the off-chance you did burn the rice, that ten-minute rest will free anything stuck to the bottom of the pot, as well as reward you with a little bonus flavor.
While I can almost certainly guarantee that this dish is not authentic Mexican cooking, I think I can safely say that this side-dish approximates authentic Mexican restaurant cooking pretty well; perhaps even a little bit better. I bootstrapped the cost, and even if you don't get your taco sauce on sale, it still only costs around a buck to prepare 6-8 servings. That boxed 'Spanish Rice' is easily double the price. As for the taste, it's remarkable how adding flavors in layers can enhance the taste of something as mundane as rice. Browning the rice adds a nuttiness, while during the steam cycle, the grains are infused with garlic. Finally, the taco sauce perks up everything with a tang that you just don't get at the place with the bottomless bowl of chips. Oh yeah – did I mention the rice is orange?