Living in Mexico, rice has a place at practically every meal. It is a versatile, inexpensive source of energy. It's also perfect for sharing the spoon with delicious, flavorful sauces. With so many kinds of rice to choose from at the grocery store, and so many ways to make it, rice is one of those things that feels like it should be so easy but can be completely intimidating.
I don't know how many hundreds of times I've made it, and I've discovered that there are definitely a few tricks to getting it just right. Let's begin with the most common, and most versatile style for Mexican cooking: white rice.
Mexican White Rice
2 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
2 cups long grain white rice
4 cups water
1 Tbsp chicken bouillon -or- 2 teaspoons fine Himalayan salt
1 bunch cilantro
1 mint leaf
2 drops lime juice
1/2 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/2" squares, optional
1/4 cup peas (fresh or frozen), optional
Rinse the rice in a colander till the water runs clear. Set it over a cup or bowl to drain completely. Meanwhile, on your smallest burner, heat a medium saucepan over low heat (preferably a clay pot, but metal works, too). Add the oil and fry the onion till transparent.
Add the drained rice to the oil and onion (beware of splatters) and stir constantly with a wooden spatula, working the stuck bits loose so that they don't burn. When the rice becomes an opaque white and some of the grains begin sticking together, add the garlic clove, stirring constantly. Be careful not to let the onion, garlic, or rice blacken. If it seems like it is at all close to burning, it is time to add the liquid.
Add all the water at once, being cautious of splatters.
Stir well to unstick any bits of rice from the bottom of the pot. (We do this because the entire pot of rice will absorb the flavor of even just a few burned grains).
Add the bouillon (or salt) and stir well. Add the carrots (if desired) and lay the cilantro and mint leaf on top. Squeeze 2 drops of fresh lime juice over your rice. Increase heat to medium. When it begins to boil, give it one last stir, reduce the heat back down to low, and cover with a lid.
About halfway through, add the peas (if desired).
Check it occasionally to ensure that the water hasn't run out, which could happen through evaporation if your lid doesn't perfectly seal. The water will have slowly sunk under the bed of rice, so it can be difficult to tell just how much remains. You can peak at the bottom of the pot without disturbing the rice by inserting a spatula or butter knife and making a tunnel.
If the water has in fact run out, you will hear a crackling sound from the bottom of your pot. Spoiler alert: the dreaded crackle is not a good thing. To remedy this, add a few tablespoons of water to keep the bottom from scorching and remove it from heat as you assess the doneness of the rice grains by trying one. If it's still crunchy, add a few more tablespoons of water to the pot, cover, and return to the heat.
Lidded rice normally takes 20 minutes to cook thoroughly, but as with all things culinary, use your intuition.
Understanding these basic concepts will help guide you towards success:
Rice cooks by absorbing hot liquid.
Flavor is infused into the grain by adding it to the water.
The perfect ratio is 1-part long grain rice to 2-parts water (but take potential water loss to evaporation into account).
Too much water will result in overly moist, mushy rice.
Not enough water will result in burned, undercooked rice.
Rice easily absorbs flavors, so if the bottom burns, the entire pot is likely ruined.
Leftovers can be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to one week.