Simple, delicious arroz blanco

There was an unexpected perk to our vacation down at Miami Beach a few weeks ago...I discovered the deliciousness of Cuban food!  We had a great trip and ate very well, which always makes a trip even better.  My favorite thing was learning more about Cuban food and tasting some of the specialities.
Must-try simple yet utterly delicious Cuban white rice, or arroz blanco
The first day we arrived, we caught a cab over to Versailles Restaurant, "the world's most famous Cuban restaurant" located in Little Havana, for lunch.  While my husband often goes out for Cuban food for lunch with his coworkers in NYC, I was hardly familiar with the cuisine.  I'm now a big fan.  Cuban food is really delicious - comforting and packed with flavor without being overly spicy.

So we sampled things our friends told us we must - dishes like "vaca fritta" and "ropa viaja".  We had sides of moros rice and plaintains.  It was a filling meal capped off with tres leche cake (my first!) and teeny cups of cafe Cubano (super-strong, yet very sweet, espresso).  Among everything that we ate, one very simple thing stood out: this amazingly delicious white rice, or "arroz blanco".
The simple white rice steals the show...never mind the roasted BBQ chicken or bean salad I served with dinner!
We were struck by how this plain-looking white rice that came with many of our dishes had so much flavor - slightly garlicky and very savory.  Even the little guy couldn't praise it enough and since he's hardly a rice/carb lover, it's unusual.  We had Cuban food a few more times at other places and each time, the arroz blanco was consistently delicious.  I knew the shiny white rice had to be cooked in some oil and garlic.  I couldn't really detect any particular spice.  Luckily, I found out this rice is very simple to make and recipes are pretty consistent.

So yes, this post is just about this simple white rice - we won't even talk about the roasted BBQ drumsticks or bean salad I served with it for dinner because the rice was everyone's favorite part of the meal!  The only thing I will say is don't cover the rice with gravy or a heavy sauce because it's so flavorful on its own that you want to be able to taste it separately.  
The recipe, which I found in The Cuban Table, is simple enough.  It starts with warming up a couple tablespoons of olive oil and adding a few mashed garlic cloves. Let the garlic infuse the oil with its flavor for about 2-3 minutes, then remove it. Carefully add hot water, a generous amount of salt, and a bay leaf before finally adding the rice.  I think you will be amazed by how tasty a rice you end up with in about half an hour!  

If you're like us, maybe brown rice has become more the staple in your house when it comes to eating rice.  Even if that's the case, I urge you to give this a try...it's that tasty.


More often than not, I pull out my rice maker when I make rice for dinner.  But I find that rice and grains are also very easy to make on the stove with a heavy pot.  It seems like there's even less clean-up than when I use my rice maker!
When my rice was finished and I first took a look at it, I was a little disappointed because it didn't look quite as shiny as I remembered it.  But we took a taste and was really happy to realize it tasted practically identical to what we were looking for.  

It sounds odd but if anyone is familiar with Hainanese chicken rice, this rice tastes very much like the rice in that dish, except there's no chicken broth/chicken fat involved like you have in the Hainanese chicken rice dish.  
I have the urge to have this rice again next time with a helping of fried pork chops! Thinking about what to serve the rice with, grilled meats (or vegetables) would be perfect.  I'd go with something "dry", not a thick sauce that would cover and mask the flavor of the rice itself.  

I do wonder how this cooking technique would turn out using long grain brown rice. Of course, it wouldn't be arroz "blanco" anymore (and you'd have to adjust the amount of water in the recipe) but it's a thought!  [Update: I have since tried this flavoring/cooking technique with brown jasmine rice.  You'll need to use more water to cook the brown rice so adjust accordingly while following the same technique.  The brown rice turned out very flavorful.]
Have we seen enough of this bowl of rice yet?  ; ) 
And on the general subject of Cuban food, I also discovered an appreciation for other tasty dishes like chicken a la plancha, palomilla (a thin cut) steak, and boiled yuca.  At Versailles restaurant, I also had a sick bowl of black beans.  And by "sick", I mean, insanely delicious!  I can hardly explain it but it had the perfect texture and a flavor that was so robust yet not overwhelming in any particularly spice.  I know I was hungry at the time but those black beans blew me away.  I expected a typical punch of cumin (which I like in moderation as opposed to full-force) but it wasn't like that...it was just perfectly flavorful without a particular discerning ingredient popping out at you.  Trying to re-make the black beans at home wouldn't be as easy a project as this white rice was.  I've looked at a few recipes, each quite a bit different so I'm confused.  I think I'll just be seeking out some good Cuban restaurants in my area so I can enjoy all the dishes we had fun sampling in Miami.

Recipe:

Arroz Blanco (Cuban-style White Rice)
From The Cuban Table

- Serves 8 -

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed with the back of a knife
3 cups hot water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 dried bay leaf
2 cups long grain white rice, rinsed*

* I prefer to rinse my rice several times using a fine sieve to wash away the extra starch so that I end up with fluffier rice.  However, rinsing could strip away some of the nutrients added to the rice.  The author of the recipe notes that you can rinse or not, each works with this recipe.

Heat oil over medium-heat in a 4-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the mashed garlic cloves and cook for 1-2 minutes until lightly golden on all sides, allowing the garlic to infuse the oil with flavor.  Remove the garlic cloves from the pot and discard.

Remove the pot from the heat and carefully pour in the hot water.  Be very careful doing this (use oven mitts, place the pot away from your face) as it will bubble up and sputter.  Add the salt and bay leaf, and bring the mixture up to a fast simmer over medium-high heat.  Add rice and return to a simmer.  Then turn heat down to the lowest possible setting and cook, covered, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove pot from the heat, let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Fluff rice with a fork, remove bay leaf, and serve.



28 comments:

  1. Very fluffy and shiny enough for me! I must try it with my wild rice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha - I'd love to know how it works with wild rice! Sounds delish.

      Delete
  2. It is amazing how some of the simple dishes, can be the best. I will certainly have to try that bayleaf trick. You know we eat a lot of rice, i mean a lot, well my goodness we live in HK after all so when in Rome... but I usually add the flavorings when I fry my rice, I like this idea of adding during the cook. I steam my rice on the stove top all of the time as it is just as easy as a rice cooker and easier to clean.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just grew up on pots and pots of rice - and long grain white rice at that - so I know just what you mean! We never flavored our rice like this and I think other cuisines do something similar. I was surprised the recipes didn't call for "frying" the rice in the oil - the method is interesting and just goes to show there are so many ways to simple deliciousness!

      Delete
  3. Cuban food sounds delicious, from the way you describe it! I've never really had the opportunity to try, but now I want to (: The rice also looks delicious!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so happy I got to try it out thoroughly for a few days. Very tasty dishes!

      Delete
  4. I mostly eat brown rice, but I reallyyy want to try this!!

    Sues

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brown rice is definitely what we eat most of the time but I am totally going to be enjoying this rice with my family every now and then.

      Delete
  5. I love that you are sharing a Cuban recipe. A good friend of ours introduced us to Cuban food a few years ago and we loved it but I have never tried making any recipes at home. This rice sounds so delicious especially if you say it reminds you of Hainanese Chicken. Drool! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I liked many things - from simple grilled chicken to boiled yucca to this rice and the black beans. It was so fun to try something new. It really does taste like Hainanese chicken rice to me and my husband agrees! haha

      Delete
  6. I'm drooling over this recipe Monica - what a great idea. I bet the flavor is wonderful and the rice amazing. Thank you for sharing this - I can think of 100 ways to use it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay - happy you like it, Tricia. It's so simple and tasty and would go great with all your beautiful grilled dishes, fish...

      Delete
  7. Rice is my favorite and this looks to die for :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rice definitely has a special place in my heart, too.

      Delete
  8. We ate at Versailles and fell in love with Cuban food when we were in Miami Beach last Christmas. Delicious!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love hearing that, Beth! It was a great experience...I'm going to be daydreaming about those black beans I had there for a while to come!

      Delete
  9. Hi Monica, sounds like a wonderful trip, love the simplicity of this rice....

    ReplyDelete
  10. Perfect and simple, no wonder it stole the show!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, thanks...it's really flavorful and being easy to make is such a bonus discovery.

      Delete
  11. I must confess that I don't think I've ever really had cuban food ... actually, once I think at a port when we took a cruise a longggg time ago! This rice sounds so perfectly simple! I am a sucker for delicious rice! haha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same here...felt like I'd had it but really hadn't. It's such great, delicious comfort food. I'm definitely in the "sucker for rice" family. ; )

      Delete
  12. I LOVE rice so this is a welcome post! I had no idea that adding garlic would add so much flavor. I can't wait to try this. And have you already posted a recipe for the chicken? It looks fantastic! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These little steps really made for some great rice! The bay leaf does a little something too! The roasted BBQ chicken was a recent recipe I caught from Cooking Light magazine. This recipe: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/roasted-bbq-drumsticks-cowboy-beans
      The chicken was easy to make and good but the rice stole the show. : )

      Delete
  13. Wow! I simply loved this simple, easy and comforting recipe, Monica. Love how shiny and bright they look. Lovely share! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is so simple but really delicious. Makes me crave white rice!

      Delete
  14. I would love to try more Cuban food, but there isn't many Cuban restaurants in LA. A few years ago, we tried a Cuban sandwich in Seattle. It was simply the best sandwich I ever had. Sadly, I still haven't found anything like this in LA.

    Garlicky rice? Yes! This sounds so good! I am definitely trying it! I can imagine the rice will be good with anything. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In NYC, my husband goes to Sophie's...I'm not familiar with any others! But boy, the food is fantastic. I'm getting ready to make this rice again this weekend when my sister comes over. : ) I hope you try it and let me know what you think. Enjoy the weekend!

      Delete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...