Mexican Rice

4.91 from 50 votes
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Mexican rice is the perfect side dish to pair with a plate of tacos, beans, or fajitas. The recipe is easy to make and infused with flavors of garlic, onion, cumin, and tomatoes.

Mexican rice in a large pot.

Maybe you’re looking for a restaurant-style Mexican rice dish to pair with your carne asada. This simple recipe is a popular choice that can complete your meal. I’ll show you how to transform bland grains of white rice into a flavorful pot, bursting with subtly sweet and earthy notes.

The rice is toasted on the stovetop to develop a nuttiness from the browning process. Then it simmers with vegetables and fragrant spices. Each grain absorbs flavors in the liquid and takes on an orange hue. You can turn a bland rice dish into an amazing one in a few easy steps.

Ingredients to make mexican rice placed in separate bowls.

Rice selection

Long grain white rice is best because the elongated shape yields light grains that stay separate after absorbing water. Extra-long grain and jasmine rice also work well. I recommend rinsing the rice to wash away any excess starches on the surface that could make the texture sticky. Then drain well! 

Rinsing is a common practice that I do whenever cooking white rice. You can substitute with brown rice, but more water and time are needed when simmering. It takes longer to tenderize the outer bran than white rice, where it has already been removed. Follow the package directions as a cooking guide.

Toast the rice

To maximize the dish’s taste, I toast the rice before simmering. Cook the grains in olive oil over medium-high heat to lightly char the surface until golden brown. This process adds new nutty aromas that weren’t there before. The extra step takes about 5 minutes, but it’s a simple technique often used in Latin cuisine to boost the flavor.

Sauteing white rice and minced garlic in a pan.

Add flavorful seasonings

Toasting the rice is a good start, but layering in complex, flavorful ingredients that absorb into the grains makes it even better. Saute chopped onions and minced garlic in oil to soften the sulfurous sting and concentrate the onions’ natural sugars. When added, the hot oil also awakens the earthy flavors in the ground cumin.

Tomato paste adds the characteristic color and delivers extra glutamates for enhanced savory notes. I like to add chopped tomatoes for small bursts of sweet and acidic elements. Add peas and carrots if you’d like more nutritious vegetables.

Simmer the rice

Once the ingredients saute together, add the chicken stock and bring it to a boil. This extra heat gets the liquid very hot so that once you cover the pot and then lower the heat, it can gently soften the rice grains using the absorption method.

It takes about 20 minutes to soak up the water and cook the starch granules. To fully soften the grains, keep them covered for ten more minutes before opening the lid. Stirring at the end allows the residual heat from the steam to do its final cooking.

Serve this with

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between Mexican rice and Spanish rice?

Both names are used synonymously, but there is a traditional difference. Spanish rice is typically more firm and uses saffron threads for it’s yellow hue. Mexican rice tends to have softer grains, with the addition of tomatoes for the arroz rojo (or red rice color), with earthy flavoring from cumin.

Can you make the rice low carb?

Yes! You can make cauliflower rice by chopping or grating the head into tiny pieces. To make grain-free rice, use 1 pound cauliflower or 8 cups of chopped pieces. Saute with the aromatics and a small amount of stock. Follow step-by-step instructions or check out my Mexican cauliflower rice recipe.

Can this be made in the rice cooker?

Toast the rice, and saute the onions and garlic first on the stovetop for the best flavor. Then all of the ingredients can be added and mixed in the rice cooker. Follow the manual instructions for cook time.

Big pot of Mexican rice garnished with cilantro leaves.

Recipe Science

How to make Mexican rice without tomatoes

If you don’t have fresh or canned tomato paste on hand, caldo de tomato (Amazon) or chicken bouillon can instantly add color and salty flavor. It’s a coarse seasoning mix with a robust concentrated chicken and spice flavor with dried tomato powder. Use about 4 to 5 teaspoons for this recipe. Some products contain monosodium glutamate, so you can omit the salt.

Mexican Rice

Easy and delicious Mexican rice recipe that you can serve with a big plate of tacos, fajitas, beans, and more!
4.91 from 50 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time50 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Servings 14 servings
Course Side
Cuisine Mexican

Ingredients 
 

  • 2 cups long grain rice, extra long grain, or jasmine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup diced yellow onion, ¼” dice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, ¼” dice
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock, or broth
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Instructions 

  • Prepare the Rice – Add the rice to a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse under cool running water until it runs clear, scrubbing the grains with your fingers several times, about 1 minute. Shake the colander and press to drain the excess water until dry.
  • Saute the Aromatics – Heat a Dutch oven or medium saucepan over medium heat, and add olive oil. Once hot, add in the onion and saute until slightly translucent, 1 minute. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds.
  • Saute the Rice – Add the rice and turn the heat to medium-high. Saute, frequently stirring, until the grains are lightly toasted, 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, so the rice does not burn.
  • Add Flavorings – Turn the heat down to medium, add the cumin and salt, and saute for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, stir to combine, and cook for 30 seconds. Add in diced tomatoes and stir to combine.
  • Simmer – Slowly pour in the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Cover and then reduce to a simmer over low heat. Cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Let it Sit – Turn off the heat, keep the cover on, and allow the rice to sit for 10 minutes to absorb all the water. Gently fluff with a fork—taste and season with more salt as desired. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 7 cups
  • Serving Size: ½ cup
  • Substituting with tomato sauce: Add ¼ cup of tomato sauce for the tomato paste. Reduce the chicken stock to 3 ¾ cups to account for the additional liquid.
  • Using canned tomatoes: Canned diced tomatoes can be substituted for fresh. Make sure to drain the liquid before using it.
  • Storing: Rice can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To freeze, portion into small resealable plastic bags for up to 1 month.
  • Reheating: Reheat in the microwave on high power in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until warmed through. Defrost the rice first if frozen.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 14 servings
Calories 132kcal (7%)Carbohydrates 24g (8%)Protein 4g (8%)Fat 3g (5%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Sodium 199mg (8%)Potassium 143mg (4%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 37IU (1%)Vitamin C 2mg (2%)Calcium 19mg (2%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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14 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      What kind of brown rice are you using? It requires more water and a longer cooking time. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation on the water and cook time if available. I can provide a guide if you don’t have the packaging with more info.

  1. Amol Khan says

    Tried this and it came out fantastic, I only made half the amount and cut all the ingredients by half. I also used a rice cooker. Paired it with a sweet bourbon grilled chicken and sautéed carrot, onion and long beans. Everyone loved it. Will definitely make again in the future

  2. Sheri says

    I made this yesterday with my daughter. We added some peas, carrots, and corn as that’s what we’re used to. We used veggie broth in place of chicken so this would be vegan.

    No Joke: this is the first time in my life, 51yo, that I’ve had a rice recipe come out amazingly!

    Thank you!

    We will make this over and over! It’s easy and tastes authentic. The rice is flavorful and fluffy!

    Yum yum!!

  3. Laura Casey says

    This ROCKS! I can’t believe the great flavor with so few ingredients! It’s delish. I think washing/soaking the rice is brilliant, also used a wider pan, a sauté pan, so rice had more to blossom! Serving a steak with my chili seasoning, green salad with lemon dressing. Bon Appetit…!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you for your feedback! Great job switching out the pan and rinsing the rice for a better final taste and texture.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Paul- Check out my Mexican cauliflower rice recipe for alternate instructions on using that vegetable instead of grains.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Make sure to press out the extra moisture after rinsing. When you add it to the pot over medium-high heat it will drive off the residual moisture and the rice will begin toasting.