Despite the name, Spanish rice does not originate in Spain. It comes from Mexico, although there they do not call it Spanish rice - they just call it rice. Typically made from rice, tomatoes, and onions, there are many ways to make this dish in America. Ours may not be the most authentic, but is very tasty and satisfying on a cold day.
Mise en place
Aromatic and bitter veg
The most effective approach to Spanish rice is to treat it like risotto, first browning the rice in fat and then adding vegetables, liquids, and other ingredients and slowing simmering it until the rice is cooked through. Our fat of choice for this activity is bacon fat.
My counterpart actually starts with a ridiculous amount of bacon - almost a full pound. He cuts it down and browns it to extract the fat, and the uses some of this fat to brown the rice, reserving the cooked bacon to add to the dish a little further down in the process.
Cutting down the bacon
Browning the bacon to extract all that yummy fat
You'll want to cook the bacon until it is fairly firm. A soft bacon is a weak bacon, and it won't hold up once it is added back into the dish.
The bacon is just about there
Once fairly well cooked, remove it from your pan with a tongs and set aside. Drain most of the bacon fat out of the pan, reduce the heat, and add the uncooked rice.
Save this for later
Using a small ladle gently add some of the bacon fat around the edges of the pan. The fat is still pretty hot, and we don't want to cook the rice too quickly.
Gradually mix the fat and the rice together with a spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate those delicious bacon sucs into the rice.
Once the rice turns a uniform white, you can being adding some of your veg. At this point, add onions, garlic, and hot peppers, like jalapenos or serranos. We are partial to leek, so we add some of that as well.
Adding the onions and peppers
As the veg releases its liquid, continue to scrape the sucs off the pan, using a deglazing motion. Once the peppers and onions have cooked a bit, you can add some fresh diced tomatoes. They will add more liquid which will help the rice cook. You can also add some chicken stock and the juice from some stewed tomatoes to keep things moist. Add some red bell pepper toward the end.
Look at that packaging - Kumatos are the D'Artagnan of tomatoes
Slice and dice
Time for the Dutch oven
Once the tomatoes have cooked, it's time to move everything to a Dutch oven or stock pot. Here's where you'll add your spices. Most of the spices my counterpart uses are the aromatics: lots of paprika and sriracha, plus a little allspice and clove. He also adds some dried oregano for a little bitter, some balsamic vinegar for a little tang, and some Thai fish sauce for a little umami, along with good old salt, white pepper, and sugar.
Man at work
That's a lot of paprika
A little olive oil is also nice. Not all the fat should be animal fat.
At the end , you'll want to add the reserved bacon, some of those stewed tomato, plus a small can of jalapeno tomato sauce from the Latino section of the grocery store. Once that has been incorporated, use that jalapeno tomato sauce can to add more water, filling it three times.
Everything's better with a little jalapeno salsa
A little olive oil for our health
Drop two pats of butter on top, and bake in the oven at 350 until all liquid is absorbed. Ours took about an hour. This is what it looks like when it's done cooking:
What you end up with is a rich, spicy, tomatoey rice dish that hits most of the major flavor points. Give it a stir, plate it up, and serve with a cheesy sour cream sauce and fresh cilantro topped with a poached egg.
In the pot
On the plate