I’ll never forget when a an honored dinner guest, an educated hydroponics engineer type whom I was trying to impress — and who is given to social blurting — blurted out his obvious disappointment upon seeing the savory rice dish I was about to serve, exclaiming (a la “Oy Vey”) “Oh… Gringo rice.”
That was it. I had spent seven months in the Philippines and two years in Mexico and I still cooked rice like a Greenwich girl… all sticky and gooey and clumpy.
I had been taught that it was key to use exactly twice the water to rice and also to never, ever, lift the lid of the pot while it steamed. I followed this to a T every time, and for years, and still I got goopy “Gringo rice” every time.
Back in the 1970s, my dad, who had is own ad agency, rejected the marketing of a brand called “Success Rice,” claiming that the concept was a ploy: that people all over the world found making fluffy rice easy breezy and would only laugh at the little, holey, pre-measured, steam bags made for us WASPY white-bread types who bought into the idea that rice making was a mystery, that rice-making required a special touch.
The morning after my dinner party rice disaster, I marched over to my Panamanian neighbor Leticia’s house, refusing to leave until she showed me exactly how Latinas make their rice all light and fluffy. Since that day, never ever has as my rice been met with disapproval.
It is not a science so you don’t need measuring cups, and it is easy. I was recently back in the United States and a friend, another girl brought up on bread and pasta, cooked up a pot of white rice. It came out as I expected see photo below). I took the very same rice, the same kind of pot she’d used, but instead I simply made two simple changes and whipped up my Latino style arroz blanco (white rice.)
The photos speak: you can see that the first batch, made by my friend, is sticky, clumped and gooey, while the same rice product, made by me, came out fluffy.
FLUFFY LATINO RICE — There are only two simple tricks!
- Measure out a cup of uncooked, white rice and place in a bowl.
- Rinse this rice until the water runs clear. (Some save the first rinse-water for soups. See tip below).
- Drain/strain out the water in a colander.
- In your favorite pot for rice cooking, heat two tablespoons of oil or butter.
- Dump your rinsed and drained rice into the hot oil and start sauteeing.
- Stir until the rice seems dry but does not brown, about a minute.
- Now pour water or chicken stock over your rice until the rice is covered and the water level measures about as high as your first knuckle above the rice…about 1/2 an inch. I use my index/pointer finger knuckle and I do this by eye. It is not an exact science and this does not matter.
- Bring the liquid to a low boil. Then cover and reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes.
- Lift the lid and check by picking out a fork full and tasting. Is it dry? Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and cook on low another 8 minutes or so. When you feel your rice is done, just turn off the stove and let the rice sit in the pot.
- If your rice develops a hard, crusty and golden layer at the bottom, no worries! This is called the “dorado” and many people think it is a treat to get some of the crust.
- A Filipina friend of mine sets aside her first, cloudiest rinse-water from her rice wash — the starchiest batch –adding this to broth to an give her soups that, milky-cloudy, Asian look.
- I have developed a liking for eating rice with breakfast eggs, especially fried or sunny-side up. When using your rice for making Fried Rice dish, or Arroz con Pollo, wait until your rice is cold, cooled or one day old to use for this type of dish. Freshly cooked, hot rice will not give you the desired result.
- For extra flavor, when you add your liquid, toss in a whole, peeled clove or two of garlic if you like. You can pick them out when your rice is cooked.