Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Arroz Rojo

Here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the mountain air is clean and light and our appetites are happy. Lourdes, our miracle-working housekeeper and cook, offers to teach us to cook her way and of course I say “si, señora, por favor!” after having devoured her amazing Huevos Rancheros in the mornings and her pear strudel for dessert. I ask her to make rice and she replies “blanco o rojo?” and I opt for red, since for me that resonates with the rice dish that has been made in Lousiana and Texas for centuries and was always called “Red Rice” there, too. I watch and take notes and try to stay out of the way, and Lourdes

Lupe and Lil, our San Miguel parakeets

puts a fresh white onion, two ripe romas, and a clove of purple garlic into the blender and purees it to a liquid. She fries the rice in vegetable oil (manteca? I ask and she points to my stomach, which has been iffy, and smiles, “no, Senor José”), adds the puree, cooks it down rapidly until it is fragrant, then adds chicken broth and some cooked fresh English peas. She adds salt, covers, and cooks this slowly until done, no set time. When it is fluffy, separate, and a perfect texture, not mushy, she corrects the salt and will not allow me to add pepper and it is done. It is delicious, and by making the puree she avoids the problem that I have sometimes encountered when I make the onion pieces too large and I crunch down on one, which I really dislike in rice, and there are no pesky tomato skins or chunks of tomato disturbing the texture of the dish. All in all, it is a rather marvelous way to cook rice, and the color is great with the bright green peas making it a complete protein.

Heavy-bottomed saucepan with tight-fitting lid
2 T vegetable oil, olive oil, or manteca (lard)
1 c. Texmati or Basmati long-grain rice
1 3/4 c. good chicken broth
1 clove purple garlic, peeled
2 ripe roma tomatoes
1 white onion, peeled, chopped, root end removed

Sauté the onion gently until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Puree the vegetables. Gently sauté the rice in the oil in a saucepan, stirring, and when it becomes milky-white, about five minutes, add the puree. Sauté until the liquid is evaporated then add the broth, cover tightly, and turn the heat down to the lowest setting, or a low simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes and remove from heat, leaving covered, for five more minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork (never use a spoon to fluff rice, it mashes the grains), and serve at once, or later at room temperature. In fact, rice fanatics in Spain, where this dish originated as paella, insist that room temperature is best of all for serving rice. This is the perfect accompaniment to Texas Enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, or wrapped up in a tortilla with some pinto beans and sprinkling of good cheese. Serves 4 to 6

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico