I read an article on the internet that said more than half of the world’s population depends on rice for their daily caloric intake. Rice is an important dietary staple for many of the world’s cultures. For my family, in particular, it has been a part of most of our meals, yes, even breakfast. Many days, I awoke to find my mother reheating rice for us to eat for breakfast. I preferred rice over cereal, in fact. My mother’s daily meals as a child were rice, beans, and chicken. Every. Single. Day. Yet, she still loved rice. Because of our love and familiarity with rice, my husband can only go a few days without craving for it. Rice, especially this Arroz Blanco, or Steamed White Rice, is a prominent part of many people’s lives.
In these trying times, seems like rice is becoming all the more important. It saddened me when I discovered that many don’t know how to prepare this simple staple. I plan to change that by the end of this post.
What is Arroz Blanco?
Although rice is a seed, it’s consumed as a cereal grain. For most of the world, it provides the only calories they have easy access to. In the States, we often take for granted the abundance of rice we have. Wild, brown, Arborio, sushi, sticky, short, medium, and long grain are just a few of the types of rice we can easily find on our grocery store shelves. To say we’re spoiled for choice is a gross understatement. The chaos our country finds itself in these days should give us a reason to be grateful. We can, for the most part, still get our hands on a bag of rice. It may take more “foraging” for it these days, but it is accessible.
Besides its being a way to fill your belly, rice is a food that can bulk up any meal you add it to. Stews, soups, casseroles- even breakfast foods- can be extended by stirring in a cup (or two) of this cooked rice. Most of the Hispanics I know have, at one time or another, eaten rice as a main course. Topped with a fried egg, cooked meat folded into it, or stir fried with a whole host of other ingredients; you’ll never go hungry if you have rice in the house.
Now, you’re going to learn my old school way of preparing it.
What you’re going to need to prepare Arroz Blanco
Mercifully, arroz blanco is not a long, drawn out dish to prepare. You’ll need four ingredients, twenty minutes, and three utensils (the third being optional).
Obviously, you’ll need long or extra-long grain white rice. Extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt are the other two ingredients you’ll need. Both are helpful, but truth be told, they’re optional. Water, the fourth and final ingredient, is not.
You’ll need a pot to cook the rice in, a spoon for stirring, a piece of aluminum foil, and fork. Too easy, right?!?
The different types of rice you can use
The types of rice that are available these days are as varied as we are. Rice comes in different shades, textures, and even the same type of rice may be used differently in different dishes.
Arroz Blanco– white rice- is the easiest to prepare as it requires no extra cooking or fancy steps. Brown rice may be used in place of white for this recipe, but its firmer texture will require an additional 1/2 cup of water and a longer steaming time (increase by 15 minutes). Short grain or medium rice, because it’s smaller, will require a 1/2 cup less water and a reduction in cooking time to only 15 minutes.
My suggestion? Start with this recipe, master it, then move on to experimenting with the myriad of other types of rice.
The Key to Fluffy Arroz Blanco
The first, and most important, lesson to learn about making a pot of white rice properly is getting rid of all that excess starch which is on the grains. Yes, the package is going to tell you not to rinse the rice prior to cooking it. Are you going to listen to some random rice bag, or to me? That’s right, you’re going to listen to me. We’ve built a bond, after all.
Because rice is fortified, it’s covered in excess starch that needs to be rinsed away. Most of my friends complain that their rice comes out sticky or gummy. Since they pay attention to the package instructions, they don’t rinse the starches off; as a result, that excess starch thickens the cooking water, which causes the rice to go gummy. Rice that is amogollao (ah-moh-go-YAO), which means “lumpy” or “clumpy”, is a travesty in the Hispanic culture. It’s a source of embarrassment, actually. Avoiding shame begins with rinsing your rice.
The amount of water you use to cook the rice in also plays a factor in the fluffiness of your rice. The old-school rule of thumb is to cover your rice with an inch of water.
For a few months, I devoted myself to following the package instructions. I pretended not to hear the cries of my ancestors as I failed to do what I knew was right. Guess what happened? I ended up with arroz amogollao and ’bout died of shame. I’m going to show you my super old-school way of doing it, but for safety’s sake, just eyeball enough water to cover your rice an inch. I’m going to give you exact measurements, but many factors may change that, so prepare yourself. This is why covering the rice in that inch of water is the sweet spot.
Generations of Abuelas can’t be wrong.
Rinse your rice
Measure the rice into a large mixing bowl. Cover the rice with about 4 inches of cold water.
Don’t rinse the rice in warm or hot water because both contain sediments that will make the water appear cloudier than it is. Hotter water will also begin to soften the grains of rice prematurely, which may lead to overcooking the rice.
Once your rice is covered in water, use your hand to agitate the water. Think of your bowl and hand as a washing machine and the rice as the clothes. Agitate the water to loosen up and remove that excess starch.
Strain the water from the rice and repeat the process two or three more times.
This is round two. The water is still so cloudy you can’t really tell what’s in the bowl. Agitate the rice to remove more of that starch before draining and covering with more cold water.
This image is actually the fourth and final time I “washed” my rice. You can now tell that there’s rice in the bottom of my bowl.
You want the water to be as clear as this. Not crystal clear, mind you, but clear enough to be able to see the rice this well.
Strain the water from the rice using a fine mesh sieve. Try to get the rice as dry as possible before the next step as it involves hot oil (which is my family’s trick). Hot oil and an excess of water is a recipe for disaster, so let your rice drain well.
Coat the grains of rice in oil for optimum fluffiness
I’m unsure of how common it is with other Puerto Rican families, but my family has always sauteed their rice in hot olive oil prior to steaming it. Some families add oil to the steaming water, but I find that method is not as effective as coating the individual grains in oil first.
Once the oil in the pot begins to shimmer, add the rinsed and dried rice to the pot. Use a wooden spoon (metal spoons may get too hot during the stirring process) to stir the rice into the olive oil.
Here’s the fun part: add 3 1/2 cups of cold water to the pot.
Warning: I have mutant, asbestos hands which are pretty much calloused against heat and freezing temperatures. Be careful if you attempt this very “Puerto Rican country girl” method!
If you want to try it the way I learned it from my elders, smooth the rice into an even layer in the pot (using your spoon). Once the rice is level, place your hand flat on the rice- the water may be hot, so be careful. If you have the proper amount of water, it should reach the last knuckle of your fingers (where your fingers meet your hand).
I know! I know! It’s a crazy method, but it’s never failed me. Again, instead of doing this, you can just use the amount of water called for (or approximate an inch of water above the surface of the rice).
Salt, then steam, the rice
Now that our ancestral method of measuring water has been completed, salt the rice. I don’t go overboard here because I’m usually serving this with something that has salt added.
Allow the water to come to a rapid boil. Big bubbles should break through the surface of the water violently– that’s a rapid boil.
Once the cooking water begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and sandwich a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil between the pot and it’s lid. This is another trick taught to us by our Mamis and Abuelas. It creates an extremely tight seal which keeps as much steam in as possible with which to cook the rice.
This is simple: just lay a piece of foil over the top of the pot. It needs to be large enough to fold up and over the lid of the pot. Put the lid of the pot onto the foil- lining it up with the pot- and press down firmly. Fold the foil up and over the lid to get it out of the way.
Leave the rice to steam over low heat for 20 minutes.
Uncover, fluff, and dry out the rice
After twenty minutes of cooking, all of the water in the pot should’ve been sucked up by that rice. If you find there’s water still in the pot, continue cooking for another five minutes.
Once all of that water is gone, uncover the pot, turn the heat off, but leave the pot on the stove. Allow the rice to dry out, on the stove, for five minutes. After five minutes, use a fork (or your wooden spoon) to fluff the rice.
I’ll be honest, I don’t always fluff my rice because I typically serve it right after cooking it, so I fluff it as I’m serving it. So, to be fair, this isn’t a step you have follow. It is best to fluff the rice now if you don’t intend to serve the rice right after cooking it, though. Not fluffing it will cause it to clump as it cools, which is just as bad as making arroz amogollao.
Serve the rice warm
So, tell me, how proud are you that you’ve made a staple of the human diet? You should be very proud, indeed. You will never go hungry in life now that you’ve learned this dish. Well, so long as you have rice, I mean.
Not only is it easy- once you know the tips and tricks- it’s economical. This bowl of rice that you’re looking at fed four people for ninety-six cents.
While I pray that this is never something you have to rely on for your sole source nourishment; speaking as someone who, at one point in my life, could only afford to eat white rice- it’s a literal lifesaver. I have never taken rice for granted since. It doesn’t hurt to have this recipe in your toolbox.
Pin this recipe for mastering later, then share it with your family and friends who may be facing lean times.
Arroz Blanco (Steamed White Rice)
- 4 quart heavy pot
- 2 cups extra long grain rice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 1/2 cups cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt optional
- Cover the rice with about 4 inches of cold water. Agitate the water to remove excess starch from the grains of rice. Drain the rice. Repeat the rinsing process 2 or 3 more times, or until the water is clear enough to be able to see the rice at the bottom of the bowl well.
- Strain the final rinse water from the rice using a fine mesh sieve. Make sure the rice is as dry as possible before proceeding as the next step involves hot oil.
- Heat the olive oil over high heat in a heavy bottom pot. Once the oil in the pot begins to shimmer, add the rinsed and dried rice to the pot. Stir the rice into the olive oil to coat the grains thoroughly.
- Add the water and salt to the pot. Stir the rice and use your spoon to level it out in the pot. Allow the water to come to a rapid boil- big bubbles should break through the surface of the water violently.
- Once the cooking water begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and sandwich a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil between the pot and it's lid (see image in post). Allow the rice to steam over low heat for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, the water should've evaporated. If you find there's water still in the pot, continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Once dry, uncover the pot, turn the heat off, but leave the pot on the stove. Allow the rice to dry out, on the stove, for 5 minutes. After five minutes, use a fork (or your wooden spoon) to fluff the rice.
- Serve the rice while hot.
Here are more of my economical grain recipes: