If you've ever attempted your favorite Mexican restaurant's rice at home and failed, raise your hand. Well, you can put it down now, because this one is my all-time family favorite and I think it will become yours, too. To be honest, I like it so much better than the rice usually served when I dine out.
Restaurant-Style Mexican Rice: Watch the Video
Whenever I go to Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants, I always find myself dumping salsa and queso over my rice to make it more delicious. I've always thought it had potential, though, and over the years I've tested countless different recipes in my quest to master it at home.
The funny thing is that I'm actually not a rice-lover at all, which probably explains why I like Mexican rice — because you're supposed to add a bunch of stuff to make it better! The best kind of Mexican rice, to me at least, is infused with a complex tomato flavor and each grain has just the right amount of bite; no mush, please! (Cheese dip optional but not required.)
A few years ago I finally found a recipe that came close to what I was looking for. It came from one of those generic crowd-sourced websites, but despite my doubts it actually proved to be a keeper. Well, a keeper that needed some work. (Once a recipe developer, always a recipe developer.) But now that I had a solid base to play with, I could tweak and adapt it to my personal tastes, and eventually I came up with a streamlined version I think is pretty close to perfect.
The key to this recipe is to sauté the rice in sizzling oil until toasted and golden brown. This helps the grains keep some of their texture after they are cooked. Next, the rice simmers in a puree of tomatoes, onions, and chicken stock to really absorb all of those delicious additional flavors. A handful of cilantro, a few big squeezes of lime, and a light fluff with a fork guarantees the best rice ever, every single time.
Now I can't say if this recipe is anything close to authentic (probably not), but I do know that it's damn good. I suggest playing around with it to make it your own. I love the loaded tomato flavor, but you can reduce the amount of tomatoes and sub in more stock if you want a slightly mellower taste. If you like lots of heat, go big on the fresh chiles, but whatever you do don't skip the cilantro — I think it's a must. (And if you need something to serve with your new favorite rice, I highly recommend a batch of Delta Hot Tamales!)
Restaurant-Style Mexican Rice
Serves 6 to 8
1 (28-ounce) can
whole peeled tomatoes
medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons
neutral cooking oil, such as canola or safflower (or rendered lard)
long-grain white rice
1 to 2
chile peppers, such as jalapeño or serrano, seeded and minced
4 to 5
cloves garlic, finely chopped
finely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice from 2 medium limes, plus more wedges for serving
Place the tomatoes and their juices and onion in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Transfer 2 cups of the tomato mixture to a medium saucepan. (Reserve any excess tomato mixture for another use, such as Tomato Sauce.) Stir in the chicken broth, salt, and cumin and bring to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, toast the rice.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the rice and sauté, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the jalapeños and cook until softened, about 2 minutes, lowering the heat as needed. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
Pour the boiling tomato mixture over the rice and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and gently fluff the rice with the fork. Cover again and set aside to steam for 10 minutes. Add the cilantro and lime juice and fluff again to combine. Taste and season with more salt as needed. Serve with lime wedges.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.