I am on a rice journey. And now that I am learning so much about Latin American cooking, including Mexican cuisine, I am discovering so many more amazing ways to cook rice. Like this arroz amarillo or yellow rice — colored with annatto (atsuwete, achiote, achuete) oil and boiled in meat broth. So simple, so tasty and so darn pretty.
What’s with the rice journey? I’ve always been amazed at how the Italians have developed hundreds if not thousands of ways to serve their pasta just as the Chinese have countless recipes for noodles. Come to think of it, they have done pretty much the same with rice. The Italians have their risotto; the Chinese have integrated rice into their main dishes, sweets and snacks. I suppose it really boils down to getting the most out of one’s staple food. It’s wise to get creative and imaginative with the ingredient that is most abundant and most widely available.
We’ve assimilated the same attitude — rice is an Asian staple since heaven knows when then we “inherited” rice traditions both from the Spaniards (close brethren of the Italians in Mediterranean cuisine) and the Chinese. And yet, when it comes to cooking rice for our main meals, well, it’s either plain boiled or steamed or, to refresh day-old rice, fried often with lots of garlic. Even rice cooked in bamboo tubes is still, essentially, plain steamed rice. Odd, really. Do we really prefer the neutrality of rice to better appreciate the flavorful savory dishes that are served with it?
I think not. I love savory rice dishes and the Mexican arroz amarillo — cooked in meat broth — is amazingly good.
It’s simple enough to make. First, you need the base that will give the rice its wonderful golden color. Render the color from annatto seeds by heating them gently in oil.
Scoop out the annatto seeds and, in the colored oil, saute the spices.
Next, add the vegetables and rice. Mix well to make sure that every grain of rice is coated with that lovely colored oil.
Pour in broth. Transfer everything into the rice cooker.
After the rice cooker has done its job, you have your arroz amarillo.
Arroz Amarillo (Mexican Yellow Rice)
- Heat the annatto / achiote oil in a pan.
- Add the garlic and onion and cook gently until slightly softened.
- Add the carrot cubes and peas.
- Add the rice. Stir to coat each grain of rice with the oil. Cook for a few minutes.
- Transfer the rice mixture to the rice cooker. Pour in the broth. Taste; add salt and pepper, as needed.
- Turn on the rice cooker and cook the rice, as usual.
- When the rice is done, leave for a few minutes in the cooker then fluff up the grains using a fork.
- Serve the rice hot. It is great by itself or with anything and everything — meat, vegetables, seafood.