Ingredient Intelligence

Make Perfect Arroz Rojo with These 5 Expert Tips from Pati Jinich

published Oct 20, 2022
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Diptych with Pati Jinich on left and Arroz Rojo on the right.
Credit: Left to right: Angie Mosier/ Pati Jinich
Pati Jinich & Arroz Rojo

One beloved dish that you will often find accompanying traditional Mexican meals like carnitas, carne asada, tacos dorados, chiles rellenos, chicken enchiladas, and chilaquiles — just to name a few — is arroz rojo. Arroz rojo is the delicious, vibrant, reddish rice side dish that has a savory flavor from the broth it’s cooked in as well as a toastiness that comes from sautéing the rice in oil before adding liquid.

Arroz rojo is most commonly prepared by cooking white rice with a mixture of tomato sauce, onions, garlic, chicken broth, and cilantro. Occasionally, vegetables like corn and carrots are added too. Although it’s technically a side dish, you can (and should!) enjoy a warm bowl of red rice all by itself too.

“Arroz rojo is just like white rice,” explains Pati Jinich. “It’s sort of a common pillar that unifies all of the regional cuisines of Mexico.” I recently spoke to Jinich, who has a fantastic arroz rojo recipe of her own, about the beloved dish, including how to make it at home, how to get the rice to just the right texture, and how to store and reheat it so you have plenty later. 

Jinich is a renowned Mexican chef, instructor, and TV host who has done an enormous amount of work exploring and sharing Mexican cuisine. In 2021, Jinich released her third cookbook, Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets, which follows her previous works Pati’s Mexican Table and Mexican Today. Jinich has also worked as the host of her PBS television show, Pati’s Mexican Table, since 2011. The series’ 11th season just premiered and is now streaming on

In addition to being an overall expert in the realm of Mexican cuisine, Jinich is particularly passionate about the history and versatility of rice, one of the most prevalent grains in Spanish-speaking countries across the globe.

Credit: Angie Mosier

Behind the Name Arroz Rojo

In the United States, arroz rojo is very commonly called “Mexican rice,” although this is not how it is referred to in Mexico. Although arroz rojo originates from Mexico, it is inaccurate to simply refer to it as “Mexican rice,” as there are many different styles of rice in Mexico.

Additionally, arroz rojo is sometimes called “Spanish rice,” particularly in Tex-Mex cuisine — this is also a bit of a misnomer. “Spanish rice” might also refer to rice prepared in a style reminiscent of Spain, such as the rice used to make paella, which is yellow and not red, as it contains saffron.

How to Make the Best Arroz Rojo

1. Use long-grain or extra-long-grain rice.

One of the most important factors when making any type of rice dish is being sure to use the right kind of rice, as different varieties of rice behave differently. Long-grain rice or extra-long-grain rice is the best for making arroz rojo, Jinich explains. “The grains [of extra-long-grain rice] absorb the flavor of the broth but still separate beautifully and fluff,” says Jinich. (Short-grain rice tends to clump and stick together).

2. Toast the rice, and toast it well.

Aside from simply being delicious, arroz rojo is unique in that, when made properly, it has the perfect balance of softness and fluffiness as well as a subtle crispness in each grain. This comes from the traditional and very necessary technique of toasting the grains of rice in oil before adding liquid. 

“This process is like when people make risotto,” says Jinich. “You’re not only adding a layer of flavor, but you’re also making the rice resilient to the sauce.” The rice is cooked with a lot of sauce and liquid, so it needs toasting to maintain some integrity and optimize the fluffiness, Jinich explains.

To do this, Jinich recommends using a generous amount of vegetable oil in a skillet or pot on high heat for a few minutes while stirring — just be sure to watch to make sure the grains don’t start to burn. “I wait until the rice begins to change color from a pale, beigy white to a brighter white color,” says Jinich in her video for arroz rojo. “Then I wait for a ‘toasty’ smell, sort of like toasted bread.”

3. Use the right ratio of rice to liquid.

Normally, when making a large pot of plain white rice, you have to factor in the perfect ratio of rinsed white rice to water. Arroz rojo, however, has another layer of complexity to it, as it also involves a puréed liquid made from onions, garlic, chicken bouillon, and tomatoes. If you end up adding too much water and excess liquid, you’ll get rice that’s a bit mushy, but if you use too little water, your rice will likely come out too hard or al dente (although there is a way to fix rice that’s a little undercooked). 

The important thing to remember is to use the correct ratio of rice to total liquid. Jinich’s arroz rojo recipe calls for 2 cups of long-grain rice and 4 cups of liquid — this can be 2 cups of tomato purée and 2 cups of chicken broth, or you could use 3 cups tomato purée and just 1 cup broth. As long as the total amount of liquid is right, your arroz rojo should be perfect.

4. Add the tomato juice, then the broth.

Aside from getting ratios just right for arroz rojo, adding ingredients in the right order is important, too. Jinich says to add the puréed tomatoes to the toasted rice before adding the broth and allow the rice to absorb a bit of tomato flavor. “[This helps] transform, intensify, and change the tomato flavor to a more cooked and seasoned taste,” Jinich explains.

5. Take humidity into account.

You might not think that weather could affect how your rice comes out, but it can actually make an important difference and you might need to adjust the cooking time up or down from what’s in the recipe, Jinich explains. “Humidity matters as well as the heat of your flames and your stove,” says Jinich. “What might take one person 12 minutes could take another 15 minutes.”

As a rule of thumb, if your kitchen is very humid, begin testing your rice early, and if it’s very dry, be prepared to add to the cook time on the rice. As with any recipe, use your eyes and nose and even ears — not just a number in the recipe — to tell when a dish is done. This might seem like a small factor, but things like the type of stove you have or whether or not it’s naturally humid in your kitchen (say, if you live in Florida) can make a difference in knowing when your rice is done.

One tip from Jinich that you can use to tell if your rice is done (aside from giving it a taste) is by making a small well in the middle of the rice to see if all the liquid has been completely absorbed after about 15 minutes. If you find that the rice is uncooked and a bit hard, there’s a way to save it. “All you need to do is add a couple of tablespoons of water,” Jinich explains in her video for arroz rojo. “Then keep it cooking for three to five minutes more while covered.” Lastly, you’ll want to be sure to fluff the finished rice with a fork to prevent it from getting clumpy. 

Credit: Photo: Cory Fernandez
Arroz rojo Photo Credit: Cory Fernandez

How to Store and Reheat Arroz Rojo

If you’re like most people when it comes to cooking rice, then you probably cook it in large batches, which means you’ll likely have plenty left over. Spread the rice in a thin layer and allow it to cool before placing it in a sealed food-storage container and transferring it to the fridge. (To prevent the growth of bacteria, never store large amounts of hot rice or other foods in the refrigerator.) Like other rice dishes, arroz rojo should keep for three to four days in the fridge.

There are a number of ways to reheat leftover white rice, and many of the same methods apply to arroz rojo, too. Jinich says that the best way to reheat a large amount of leftover arroz rojo is to heat the rice in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water, covered for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat. In other words, you don’t technically need the microwave or any damp paper towels, although that works too.