Real Spanish Rice
In my frequent food-based conversations with friends, I’ve discovered that most people have a dish that they avoid at all costs, usually because it’s been tricking them for years. It shows up everywhere, it always looks like it might be good, and it always disappoints.
My pet-peeve dish of this variety is the so-called “Spanish rice.” You know what I’m talking about, either because you always avoided it in the buffet lines in the dining hall or because you’re the person I hate who always brings it to potluck dinners. The dish has potential; the rice is all colored and it’s got bits of tempting, delicious-looking things peppered throughout. However, the rice is always dry and completely tasteless. Really, I have no idea where that red tint comes from or what those chunks are, because they certainly don’t impart flavor.
My main quip, however, is that Spaniards would never, ever make rice that way.
My señora always prepared rice with four ingredients: oil, garlic, rice, and water. First, slice up some thick chunks of garlic and sauté them until your kitchen smells like heaven and the garlic is golden-brown:
Keeping the skillet over medium-high heat, add your short-grain rice (Valencian paella rice if you’re in Spain, though I’m sure arborio would do) and thrice as much water. That’s right, 1 rice : 3 water.
Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and allow it to boil until the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes. One important piece of advice: the ONLY movement allowed is to shake the skillet so the rice doesn’t stick. DO NOT STIR. I was silly enough to make that mistake when my señora was teaching me to make this rice, prompting an “Ay, madre mía, ¡qué barbaridad!”
A little dramatic perhaps, but I learned my lesson.
In my own experimentation, I haven’t had much luck mixing and matching my short-grain and long-grain techniques. (When I tried to boil short-grain rice in a pot, it transformed into a big gloppy mess of grossness that I dutifully ate and later regretted.) For long-grain rice, I really think rice steamers are the way to go. But for short-grain, pull out the skillet and chop up some garlic! It’s fast, easy, and delicious.
I love eating this rice with a fried egg on top for dinner. If you’re a Spaniard, you’d take it a step further and add a splash of the ubiquitous tomate frito (not ketchup, not tomato sauce, not tomato paste, but tomate frito, which is not very appealing but is the only tomato product available here). They would also serve a piece of bread on the side for sopping up the yolk and tomato… stuff. Personally, I prefer it with just the egg and a few flakes of sea salt.