One look at a mound of arroz amarillo, and I always anticipate something incredibly savory with a flavor to match its intense color. Unfortunately my fantasies of an ultra-flavorful rice are usually shattered in one bite by mushy, bland, one-dimensional rice that tastes of nothing more than MSG laden “sazón.”
In the original Spanish dish, saffron is used to give the rice its characteristic hue, but because it wasn’t available in the New World, achiote was substituted for the saffron as the dish made its way across the Atlantic. While achiote has a similar golden hue, it’s almost flavorless and doesn’t contribute much to the rice.
That’s why I like to take the dish back to its roots and use a blend of saffron and turmeric. The combination yields a ridiculously vibrant yellow, while both spices contribute their own unique flavors to the rice. Turmeric gives the rice an earthy flavor with hints of warm spices like ginger, while the saffron imbues a sweet floral taste with a savory aroma vaguely reminiscent of shellfish.
Aside from the spices, some good chicken stock and onions are all you need to make this stunning side that tastes as good as it looks.
Because yellow rice is usually served as an accompaniment to another dish, like picadillo, I don’t add any salt (beyond what’s already in the chicken stock). If you plan on eating this by itself, you may want to season it with some salt.
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/4 loosely packed teaspoon saffron
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2.7 ounces (75 grams, or 1/2 small) onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup long grain rice (such as basmati)
- Add the saffron and turmeric to the chicken stock, stir, and let it sit while you chop and sauté the onions.
- In a heavy bottomed pot, add the oil and onions and sauté over medium-high heat until the onions start to brown around the edges.
- Add the rice, and stir to coat evenly with the oil.
- Add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
- Turn down the heat and cover the pot, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer. Set the timer for 15 minutes.
- When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat but do not remove the lid. Let the rice steam for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid, fluff the rice and serve.
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.