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Fiesta Rice (Arroz de Fandango)

This colorful rice is usually cooked and served in a clay cazuela as a substantial side dish alongside grilled chicken or meat, such as marinated steak with herbs (see related recipe at left). It also makes a tasty main dish.

To roast the chilies, use long-handled tongs to hold them over a gas-stove burner until their skins are evenly blistered and charred, about 5 minutes; or roast directly over a very hot charcoal or gas grill. Alternatively, roast under a preheated broiler, turning occasionally, until evenly blackened and blistered, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the chilies to a paper bag and let stand for 5 minutes before peeling.

Ingredients:

For the seasoned white rice: 

  • 2 cups medium- or long-grain white rice 
  • 1/2 white onion, coarsely chopped 
  • 2 garlic cloves 
  • 3 Tbs. cold water 
  • 5 Tbs. safflower or canola oil 
  • 4 cups hot water 
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lime juice 
  • 3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs 
  • 1 tsp. sea salt 
  •   
  • 3 Tbs. safflower or canola oil 
  • 1/2 white onion, cut vertically and then into thin slices 
  • 4 poblano chilies, roasted (see note above), peeled, seeded and deveined, then cut lengthwise into narrow strips 
  • 1/2 cup frozen or lightly cooked fresh corn kernels 
  • 2 cups crema or crème fraîche 
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican 
  • 1 cup milk 
  • 1/2 lb. Manchego or Monterey jack cheese, shredded 

Directions:

To make the seasoned rice, rinse the rice in water, swishing the grains, and then drain. Repeat 2 or 3 times, draining well. It is best if the rice is completely dry, so spread it out on a kitchen towel and leave it out for a few minutes.

In a blender, combine the onion, garlic and cold water and process until smooth.

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the oil until it is smoking. Add the rice and toss until the grains turn a toasty golden color and have a nutty aroma, 7 to 10 minutes. The rice is ready when it begins to crackle.

Stir the onion mixture into the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the hot water, lime juice, parsley sprigs and salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from the heat and leave the pot covered for 10 minutes so the rice continues to steam.

Remove the parsley sprigs and toss the rice with a fork, making sure that all the liquid has evaporated. You will need 4 cups rice for this recipe; let it cool to room temperature before continuing. Reserve the rest for another use.

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Butter or oil a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish, such as an attractive ovenproof ceramic dish.

In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and sauté until just translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chilies and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

Spoon half of the rice into the bottom of the prepared baking dish, spreading it in an even layer. Spread half of the onion-chili mixture and half of the corn over the rice, then drizzle half of the crema on top. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the oregano. Repeat the layering with the remaining rice, onion-chili mixture, corn and crema. Pour the milk evenly over the top and sprinkle with the cheese.

Bake the rice until the cheese is bubbling hot, about 20 minutes. Serve hot directly from the dish. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Mexico, by Marilyn Tausend (Time-Life Books, 2000).