Although many people use the terms interchangeably, Mexican Red Rice and Spanish Rice are not the same. There are some similarities. For instance, both can have tomatoes as their base.
One significant difference between the two dishes is that Spanish rice usually includes saffron and sweet paprika. In contrast, Mexican red rice gets its color almost exclusively from the tomatoes and often includes hot peppers, like serranos.
Recipes for Mexican red rice can vary from region to region and family to family.
I usually add frozen peas, a little parsley, and two or three serrano peppers to mine. Some people just stick to the tomatoes, carrot, and a little bit of garlic. It all boils down to personal preference.
Since my wife doesn’t like spicy food as much as I do, instead of chopping the serranos and mixing them in, I just make a large slice down the sides to allow some of the cooking water in, then throw them into the pot whole.
Although I’ve seen many recipes that call for tomato sauce, I prefer to use fresh tomatoes that have been blackened under the broiler.
If you like, you can substitute canned fire-roasted diced tomatoes.
I prefer using fresh tomatoes (during the peak of their season from May to October) and blacken them under the broiler or in a comal. If you buy quality canned tomatoes, they can be excellent, but they cost a lot more than doing it yourself, and it doesn’t take but a couple of minutes.
Just preheat your broiler on high with the rack in the top position. Once hot, put the tomatoes in a broiler pan and cook until the tops are blackened; flip them, then cook till the other side is blackened. Nothing to it.
I like to throw the unpeeled garlic cloves in the pan to roast alongside the tomatoes. When everything is done, you can just squeeze them out of their skins, straight into the blender jar.
Mexican Red Rice (Arroz a la Mexicana)
- 1/2 lb. ripe tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic - whole, unpeeled
- 1/2 medium white onion - Diced
- 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 small carrot - Peeled, shredded on a box grater, then chopped
- 1/4 cup frozen peas - Thawed (optional)
- 1 1/2 tbsp. flat-leaf parsley - Finely chopped (optional)
- 2-3 large serrano peppers - Either chopped finely, or cut a large slit down the sides, and leave whole, depending on how spicy you like your rice (optional)
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- Preheat your broiler on high, then add the tomatoes and garlic to a heavy-duty broiler pan. Broil until the tomato tops are blackened, then flip and broil the other side until blackened. Squeeze the garlic out of its skins, then add to a blender jar along with the tomatoes and onions. Blend until it's as smooth as possible.
- While the tomatoes are broiling, rinse the rice in a rice strainer until the water runs clear. Let drain thoroughly, shaking and stirring until no more water drips through the strainer.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed stockpot. Once the oil is shimmering, fry the rice until just turning color, stirring, and turning over constantly so it will cook evenly and doesn't stick. About 8-10 minutes.
- Add tomato puree to the fried rice. Over medium-high heat, cook, stirring constantly until most of the moisture has evaporated out of the puree. About 3-4 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the chicken stock, carrot, peas, parsley serrano peppers, and salt—cover and cook for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for an additional 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and serve.