Arroz blanco—aka white rice, the sure winner in any popularity contest judging the No. 1 Latino side—is a daily can’t-live-without for most of the Spanish-speaking world. But it can’t be any old boiled white rice. It has to be arroz made with amor, sabor and spices. Expect to see it include powdered or fresh onion or garlic (or both), and a spoonful of the sauce connecting it to the rest of the plate. Like the stew la carne is cooked in or the savory jugo from the beans.
The best friend of rice, of course, is beans (be they rojo or black or pink or pinto or … just about any color will do). Honestamente, the variations of what to eat rice with are sin fin—endless.
For this 101 on how to make arroz blanco the authentic abuela way, we turn to one of our favorite cocineras from Venezuela, Liliana Hernandez, who regularly whips up dishes from her homeland on her Mi Show de Cocina YouTube channel. Rice is a starring ingredient in her pabelllón criollo, Venezuela’s national dish. Pabellón is a heaping, hearty plate of shredded beef called carne mechada, fried ripe-plantain tajadas, and black beans in a garlic, cilantro, dried chile and piloncillo sauce—all centered around a big scoop of fluffy, hot, white arroz.
Rice is also found on Liliana’s Illinois-home table for dinner on most non-pabellón nights. La cocinera Venezolana, Liliana says, usually has arepas baking in the oven and a pot of rice bubbling on her stove—ready to go. We especially love how Liliana, in addition to sauteing her rinsed rice with diced onion, garlic and a bay leaf, drops 3 cloves into the boiling rice liquid, giving her arroz an unexpected hit of Middleastern sabor we aren’t used to. To that we say: +1.
Of particular interest to this Puerto Rican homecook who only uses medium-grain rice (is there even another kind in Boricua cooking?) is Liliana’s call for long grain. So elegant. So exotic. Liliana also reports she alternates between using water and broth (always in a 2:1 ratio—liquid to rice) and that the broth can be either chicken or beef for más flavor: +1, again.
Observation: so often it’s the tiniest shifts in ingredients and techniques that shape how the cocina in one Latino nation differs from its vecinos and neighboring countries and islands. Liliana’s Venezuelan arroz is nothing like Gollita’s Essential Mexican Rice (made with diced peas, carrots, bouillon and her tomato-garlicky sauce: recaudo) by one of our favorite Mexican cooks, Gollita González.
Though, both use long grain. God is in the detalles.