Rice may be the principal food for half the world’s population, but for Hispanics it’s more than a staple—it’s downright tied to our identity. Virtually no Latin meal is complete without a platter of arroz somewhere on the table. It’s just as likely to play the role of accompaniment (as in picadillo con arroz blanco) as it is to be the main attraction (think arroz con pollo or paella.) And it’s one of those dishes that transcends throughout Latin America, popular in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as well as Mexico, Peru and beyond.
Our connection to it extends back to the 8th century, when the Moors grew large quantities of rice in Spain. By the 16th century, during the colonization of the New World, Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought rice to America—and we’ve been eating it ever since. Somewhere along the way, Latina moms began teaching their young daughters how to make the perfect arroz, turning it into a cultural rite of passage. (It was the very first thing my mother taught me in the kitchen, though I confess I got to use an arrocera, or rice steamer, that made it mistake-proof.)
For all the colorful variations that now exist—yellow saffron rice, tomato-y arroz a la mexicana, green Peruvian rice made with cilantro—the simple, fluffy white one remains a holy grail in the kitchen. With just three ingredients, it’s the kind of dish you either get right, or not. Which can make it a little intimidating. So today, I’m bringing you the no-fail way to making white rice. (And no, I’m not using that arrocera. I’m making it in a good old fashion caldero, which gives rice better texture and flavor. You can also use a non-stick saucepan.)
A few important tips: you may be tempted to skip the whole rinsing step, but don’t. Rinsing removes extra starch that’s on the outside of the grains, which helps prevent stickiness at the end. Also, make sure you’re using long-grain rice as opposed to medium- or short-grain or converted, all of which require different amounts of liquid and cooking times. Last, I’m using an old-school method of finishing the rice by covering it with a small kitchen towel, a secret my grandmother taught me. It works. Sometimes even the techiest kitchen gadgets can’t outsmart abuela.
Perfect white rice
1 cup long grain rice (not converted)
1 3/4 cup water
1 tsp. salt
2 T olive oil
1. Start by rinsing the rise. Put rice in medium-sized caldero or saucepan and pour hot water over it. Swirl it around with your hand and pour out as much water as you can leaving the rice in pot. Repeat two times, until water is clear and rice is well rinsed.
2. Add the 1 3/4 cups of water, salt and olive oil to the rinsed rice and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium so it continues to bubble steadily for about 15 minutes. When most of the water has been absorbed and small craters have formed on top of the rice reduce heat to low and cover tightly. Allow to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Remove caldero from heat. Cover the rice with a small kitchen towel and cover with the lid. Set aside in a warm place for another 10 or 15 minutes.
4. Fluff rice with a fork and serve. Makes 2 cups.