2 pinches saffron (about 15 strands) or 2 tbsp annatto seeds
1/2 cup hot water
1 tbsp olive oil, lard, or bacon grease
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1 cup chopped, see note below)
2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth (or 1 cup dry white wine + 2 cups chicken broth)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt, more to taste
1. Prepare the saffron or annatto seeds to color the rice: place the saffron in a small bowl, crushing the strands with your fingers, or place the annatto seeds in a small bowl. Fill with 1/2 cup hot water and set aside.
2. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until just softened, about 5 minutes, then stir in the bell pepper and sauté until softened, another 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and garlic, and sauté until the rice is well-coated and starting to turn opaque, stirring constantly to prevent sticking, about 2 minutes.
3. Stir in the chicken broth, tomato paste, salt, and the saffron and its liquid (or the annatto seed liquid – but not the seeds!). Bring to a simmer then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the liquid has evaporated (listen for when the rice stops bubbling and starts to hiss), about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside, covered and undisturbed, for at least 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste before serving.
** For a more balanced color, use 1/2 red bell pepper and 1/2 green bell pepper, which you can see in the picture above. But that leaves you with a logistical problem, so using 1 whole bell pepper is just fine in my book.
** This recipe makes rice with a bit of bite to it, just the way I like it. For softer, fluffier rice, add an additional 1/2 cup of broth. In truth, I rarely measure out my broth, I just add enough to cover the rice by 1/2″ to 1″ and it always turns out fine; the key is to remove it from heat when it starts to hiss, and to not touch the lid for 10 minutes while the rice settles and absorbs the remaining liquid.
** If you use the wine/broth combo instead of just broth, add the wine first and let it simmer for a couple minutes, stirring often, before adding the broth and proceeding as directed.
** For extra flavor, fry up some bacon as your first step, and remove it with a slotted spoon and use that rendered fat instead of the 1 tbsp oil specified above. Stir in the bacon before serving.
** To make Arroz Rojo, which is more commonly associated with Mexican cuisine, use 1 cup (8oz) tomato sauce in place of the tomato paste and reduce the broth by 3/4 cup.
** If you own a skillet or pot with a glass lid, use it – it’ll make it much easier for you to check on the rice’s progress without disturbing anything. I like to spin the lid a little, to clear any condensation and so I can get a better look.
** Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) instructions: for Step #2, use the “Sauté” function of the Instant Pot. For Step #3, add the remaining ingredients then cover and press the “Rice” button. Allow to depressurize naturally before removing the lid, about 15 minutes after it is done cooking.