Mexican Rice, or arroz rojo, is a staple in Mexican cuisine! It is a red rice that is cooked in chicken stock and tomato juice, which gives it that beautiful red color. I learned how to make this recipe from my Abuela, who learned it from her mother.
This is hands down one of my MOST requested Mexican recipes- so many of you have expressed that you can never get arroz rojo right, so I did some testing in my kitchen and made a fool-proof recipe for perfect Mexican rice, every single time!
I highly recommend that you read through this entire post for some very important information about the cooking process. I am sharing with you, all of the tips and tricks that my Abuela taught me to make perfect Mexican rice every time without fail. You got this!
Mexican vs. Spanish Rice
I’m not sure why but I’ve noticed that people tend to use these terms interchangeably, but Mexican rice is NOT the same as Spanish rice!
Spanish rice uses saffron and is usually more of a yellow color. It is also firmer than Mexican rice, which tends to be more on the fluffy & soft side. I don’t know how to make Spanish rice so I’m not exactly sure about all the differences- my point is that they aren’t the same!
There are also different names for this depending on who you ask. My Mexican side of the family is from Jalisco and my Abuela calls it “sopa de arroz.” But I have some Mexican in-laws that are from other parts and call it “arroz rojo.”
Long grain rice – My Abuela ALWAYS uses Mahatma® Rice Extra Long Grain White Rice for this recipe! This is super important and does actually matter. The rice grains are extra long, which means it contains less starch and cooks to a super fluffy & drier texture which is exactly what we want.
Tomato sauce- you can use either canned or fresh tomato sauce! If using fresh tomatoes, you want to make sure you find the ripest, reddest tomatoes you can if you care about color.
Chicken bouillon- Knorr chicken bouillon is what I recommend (this is a key ingredient), but you can use whatever you have available. Chicken stock will work (but may be a little greasy), or tomato bouillon to make it vegan.
Vegtables- my Abuela’s rice is a very standard version using only onions and garlic, but you may also add carrots, peas, or red bell pepper if you want.
Other seasonings- garlic powder and just a little salt to taste.
Hot water– whether you are using water or chicken stock, the liquid used to steam the rice in this recipe has to be HOT when you pour it in.
Aromatics- these ingredients are optional but will give your rice a very authentic taste- cilantro and jalapeno. The jalapeno will not make the rice spicy at all- it is just to add flavor, although I do actually like to eat them with my meal!
Tips from Abuelita
My grandmother’s name is Estela (I was named after her), and she is not much of a cook. In fact, my abuela hates cooking! However, she did learn how to make arroz rojo from her mother and I have to say that it is a very solid recipe. Everyone in my family loves when she makes arroz rojo!
She was so methodical when she taught me how to make it many years ago, which I always thought was so cute! It was also extremely helpful in understanding how to make perfect arroz rojo every time. If you keep the following tips in mind, I promise you will master this recipe in no time at all:
Use Mahatma® Rice Extra Long Grain White Rice. Trust me, the kind of rice you use matters. The extra long grain rice contains less starch and cooks to a dryer, fluffier texture. Jasmine rice is a little too starchy, and basmati rice has an aroma that is not authentic to Mexican rice.
Toast the rice in oil. It is really important to toast the rice in oil until it turns a golden color and puffs up a little, which usually takes about 5 minutes. This is done by first sautéing onions and garlic in oil, then adding the rice and moving it around constantly until it is well toasted.
Add the chicken bouillon and garlic powder to the toasted rice. When the rice is nearly done toasting, mix in the bouillon and garlic powder and continue mixing/toasting for one more minute. My abuela says the rice absorbs more flavor this way.
Fry the tomato sauce with the rice before adding water. We want to mix the tomato sauce with the rice and quickly mix & fry together to develop the tomato flavor and also make it a deeper red color. You can actually see the redness become deeper as you fry it.
Use HOT water! For this one, I am not really sure about the reason. But my abuela told me you have to add hot water and that the liquid on the sides of the pot should be bubbling when you pour it in. I think this helps with the texture of the rice- it ensures that you get perfectly fluffy rice that is not mushy or clumps together.
Use a heavy-bottomed pot. The best way to make sure your rice does not burn at the bottom is to use a pot that isn’t too thin at the bottom. A good quality non stick is the best way to go. I use a Korean stone pot to make ALL of my rice dishes and nothing ever sticks!
What texture to look for
The texture we are looking for is fluffy, soft, with tiny visible bits of tomato coating each grain of rice. When you open the lid and see a bunch of tomato at the top- this is good! That’s what we want. Just fluff the rice to mix it in.
The rice should be a tiny bit on the dry side (but still soft and fluffy). If your rice is really wet and mushy, you probably added too much water and/or overcooked it.
This recipe is kindly sponsored by Mahatma® Rice. I carry their products in my kitchen at all times!
Authentic Mexican Rice (Arroz Rojo)
- 1 1/2 cups Mahatma® Rice Extra Long Grain White Rice
- 3 tbsp canola, vegetable, or corn oil
- 1/4 onion diced
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 1 tbsp Knorr chicken bouillon
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 roma tomatoes (makes 8 oz tomato juice)
- 2 cups hot water
- 1/4 tsp salt or to taste
- 3 sprigs cilantro
- 1 jalapeno
- Over medium heat, add the oil to a heavy-bottomed or good quality non-stick pan, then fry the onions and garlic
- When the onions and garlic have lightly browned, remove the garlic and set it aside.
- Add Mahatma® Rice Extra Long Grain White Rice to the pot and toast the rice in the oil, moving it constantly for about 5 minutes or until it becomes slightly puffy and golden brown.
- Add the Knorr chicken bouillon and garlic powder, the mix and continue toasting for another minute.
- Blend together the roma tomatoes and fried garlic clove. You should have about 8 oz (1 cup) of tomato sauce.
- Add it to the rice, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. The color should change to warm reddish orange color. At this point, watch the heat to make sure the bottom is not burning. Adjust the heat if you need to.
- Add the HOT water to the rice. It has to be hot- if the liquid isn't bubbling on the sides of the pot, your water is not hot enough. Stir in salt to taste at this point if you're adding. I recommend about 1/4 tsp.
- Add the cilantro and jalapeno on top, continue boiling over medium-low heat until some of the water has evaporated. Then turn the heat to the lowest setting and cover for 20 minutes. Do NOT lift the lid!
- After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and fluff the rice with a fork. There will be a thin layer of tomato sauce at the top- that is what we want. Just gently fluff & mix it into the rice to distribute evenly.
- At this point, the rice is ready if you don't like overly soft rice. This is good for me, but if you want it more soft & fluffy, cover for another 10 minutes (no heat).