February 18, 2006
Arroz Rojo con Achiote

I cook a lot of Mexican food, but one thing that's always been missing is the rice. Part of the problem might be that I've never really tried to cook your workaday Spanish rice... I can't decide if this is because 1) I don't really like Spanish rice all that much, or 2) all the recipes I've seen call for chicken stock, and I never had the chutzpah to go with veggie stock instead (I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I'm usually cooking for one). And while I eat plenty of plain white (jasmine) rice with various Asian cuisines, it just doesn't seem right on a Mexican plate.

At any rate, this rice solved my problem. It's contrasty enough (both in look and flavor) to really hold its own against whatever Mexican standby you've got as the main course. And it's distinctively Mexican, rather than kind of a generic catchall (eg Spanish rice) that's just there to occupy territory on your plate.

The one difficulty is getting your hands on some achiote paste. I couldn't find any myself, so I improvised a paste after looking at several (very different!) recipes online and comparing them to what I had in my cabinet. Annato is the key ingredient, to the point where one of the recipes called for simply soaking annato seeds, draining them, and then crushing them to make achiote paste. Since I don't have a good spice grinding solution in my kitchen, I just picked up ground annato and worked from there.

Achiote Paste

2 tbsp ground annatto
2 tsp oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cloves
the juice of one lemon

Simply stir these items together until they form a dryish paste, adding a little bit of water from the tap if necessary.

Arroz Rojo con Achiote

1/4 cup safflower oil
2 cups medium grain rice
1 14oz can of tomatoes (I use whole or diced)
3 cups vegetable stock
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, roasted and mashed
1 tbsp achiote paste
1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin 1-inch strips

Add tomatoes, onions, garlic, and achiote paste to a blender; blend until smooth. Pass the mixture through a sieve.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and fry, stirring, until the color changes to a light gold (about 5 minutes).

Stir in the strained tomato/achiote mixture and fry until it is absorbed into the rice.

Add the stock and the bell peppers. Cover, reduce to medium-low heat and cook for about 30 minutes.

You should have enough rice to serve about six people as a side dish. We had this most recently with stacked green enchiladas and some tasty black beans.

Posted by Paul at February 18, 2006 8:38 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Paul, I noticed that your paste makes a lot more than you need for the rice. Can you store it in the fridge? For how long?

Sounds lovely, by the way. I also usually leave out the rice, mainly out of laziness!

Posted by Meg in Paris on February 18, 2006 at 9:39 AM

I think it will store just fine in the fridge for a few days at least, but I haven't made batches of this rice close enough together to try that out.

I thought about writing this up so that you just add the various spices to the tomato mixture before you blend -- it should work just as well, and you'd probably want to use about 1/3 of all the constituents. But if you want paste (and I did, after looking for it for awhile) this is how you do it!

Posted by paul on February 18, 2006 at 9:49 AM

I would think that you could mix up the dry ingredients for the achiote paste and store them in a jar (probably a good idea to store them in the dark) and then make the amount of paste necessary for each dish of Arroz Rojo con Achiote.

I do like the taste of achiote seed (aka annato) - it is delicate, to be sure, but it does have a nice earthy flavour, doesn't it?

We like to oven roast olive oil drizzled cubed sweet potato (yam) until it is a bit crispy and scatter the cubes over South American style rice dishes. And then garnish with coriander leaves if we have any coriander leaves (cilantro)....


Posted by ejm on February 20, 2006 at 5:51 PM

paul: sounds great--your photos of it are really nice, too. mom sent me annato seeds in a package, so i am going to try this out soon.

Posted by Jackie on February 21, 2006 at 3:54 AM

What kind of camera are you using for those photos?

Posted by Justin on February 21, 2006 at 11:42 AM

It's a Nikon D50. I think both of these were taken with a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens, no flash.

Also, I didn't mention this in the post, but you can click on the photos to see them large. I'm going to try to do this with all the shots I post here.

Posted by paul on February 21, 2006 at 11:44 AM

I thought I lived in Latin America but evidently not. I just got back from the grocery store and no annatto to be found. Is there a flavor to it or it just for color? Is there any reasonable substitute?

Posted by Justin on February 21, 2006 at 1:17 PM

I've never tasted a difference between dishes with annatto and without. It makes a huge difference to the color, though.

Posted by barrett on February 21, 2006 at 2:56 PM

hmmm. barrett, i think if you made some of this paste you would have to concede that it packs some punch. personally i think it makes the dish.

unfortunately i don't know what a reasonable substitute would be. you might be able to convince me to send you some, though -- why don't you shoot me an email?

Posted by paul on February 21, 2006 at 5:45 PM

Paul, I'd love to try it. The annato I have is flavorless. It came from a Hispanic market here so I think its authentic.

Posted by barrett on February 21, 2006 at 9:51 PM

Justin, you might be able to find it by asking for its other name "achiote". I gather from googling that it is also called "urucu" and "lipstick plant". We buy our achiote at the healthfood store down the street (Toronto). I haven't seen it elsewhere (although, I confess that I haven't looked in any of the stores that sell South or Central American foods)

It really doesn't impart very much flavour at all - but there is a slight earthiness. I get the impression that it is mainly there for colour. You might get away with substituting a little turmeric (although I find turmeric to be much stronger tasting)


Posted by ejm on February 22, 2006 at 12:15 PM

rrrr, sorry Justin... I meant to say achiote seed is also called "annato seed".


Posted by ejm on February 22, 2006 at 12:19 PM

Is the point of the straining in order to let the water run through and what you want to put into the rice is the tomato mash that remains in the strainer?

Posted by Justin on February 23, 2006 at 9:35 AM

i would love to know how to make the meat for pastore tacos. so many people i talk to do not know how to make the sauce to marinade the meat in. thanks

Posted by nick on July 4, 2008 at 6:18 PM

Hi Elizabeth,

Where in downtown Toronto is the health food store where you buy achiote paste? I am looking for it too.


Posted by Jacinta on October 20, 2010 at 8:58 AM

Try Perola's in Kensington Market for achiote paste

Posted by Ted on November 17, 2010 at 10:44 AM

my grandmother always used paprika for her spanish rice to give it color. she also used thyme and oregano. she browned chicken parts in oil til almost done. removed chicken and in separate pot she put water on to boil, and while waiting for that in pot chicken was browned in she sauted onions til golden, also a 1/2 small green pepper, then she added the rice, s&p, thyme, oregano and sauted all til the water boiled, then she added 2c of the hot water for each c of rice. she also put in green pimento stuffed olives and black pitted olives, plus capers. she put chicken on top of rice and bring all to boil then lowered heat and simmered til rice was done.
its a tradition in my house that i carry on because my mom did and its a must at every holiday meal. but i also make it during the year because we enjoy it so much especially with chicken and pork. [i also like to sometimes use achiote seeds to get the orange color for the rice.] ps. in case anyone didn't know, you can freeze cooked rice. i do it all the time. i make more than i need by doubling the recipe and this way i always have rice on hand when ever i want it and don't have time to cook it. it freezes great.

Posted by claire on September 16, 2011 at 2:21 PM

I found this recipe for achiote paste on the India Tree spice website. I made oil with annatto seeds for a Spanish rice and found that the usual ratio is one part seeds to two parts oil.

To make achiote paste, combine INDIA TREE Annatto Seeds with Mexican oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and whole allspice. Grind this mixture in an electric spice/coffee grinder, sift and grind again. Add only enough water to the ground spices to make a paste. Store in the freezer. To use, crush a small amount of paste with garlic and sea salt, thin with mild vinegar or bitter orange juice. Allow the meat to marinate in this mixture for 1 or 2 hours, or overnight, before roasting or grilling.

Heat INDIA TREE Annatto Seeds in oil, then use the oil to add aroma and color to a chicken dish; grind them with other spices and add to a slow cooking Mexican bean dish; grind them to powder and whisk into a grilled tofu marinade.

Posted by Kim on October 18, 2012 at 6:10 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please be sure you read and agree with our ADVERTISING POLICY before posting.