I have a thing for rice. I’m ravenous for all things starch, but rice has a special place in my diet. I buy it by the twenty-pound sack. On vacations with people who don’t share my love, it only takes about three days before I start exclusively suggesting meals and restaurants where I can eat a cup or two of rice. I mean, I even have a category heading here for “Stuff on Rice,” in recognition of the fact that, when I can’t think of what else, I throw things in a skillet and put the result over a bowl of steaming, delectable grains of rice. (That same phrase was actually a contender for this blog’s very name, but it’s already been used, alas.)
So when I pick up a new cookbook, I inevitably find myself skipping over the perfectly lovely vegetables, meats, soups, desserts, etc. toward the (often sadly-underfeatured) grains/sides/etc. section to see what’s on offer. So when I recently checked out a copy of Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s Mexico: The Cookbook from my local library, and saw that it has a whole section devoted to Rice and Beans (be still my heart), I was instantly smitten. There’s a lovely range of rices in there, many simply named by color (white, yellow, green, red: you could eat a rainbow of rices!), and many others named by what’s added to them (rice with fish, with corn, with clams). But one recipe stood out for its unusual name: Arroz Luz Catalina.
No, I have no idea where the name comes from. If I have one complaint about this cookbook, it’s that there’s almost nothing in the way of interpretive text; Carrillo Arronte gives an overall introduction to the book, and then dives right into the recipes. (Of course at almost 700 pages there’s no room for extra material, so it’s hard to fault the decision.) If you google ‘arroz luz catalina’, the few results all point back to this recipe, and while there are plenty of women out there named Luz Catalina, none of them seems to be particularly known as an expert rice maker, or a celebrity someone might name a dish after.
So I’m left to assume there is an almost-anonymous señora somewhere in Chihuahua who provided the original recipe. And thank goodness she did: the combination of saffron-infused chicken stock and garlic oil with the bright flavors of peas, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers is a real winner, one that I’m very happy to add my rice repertoire. The recipe’s very simple, but the finished product tastes so deep and rich that it feels like a luxury. We just finished off this batch, and already I’m longing to have that toasted rice smell in my kitchen again. And, gracias a Sra. Luz Catalina, I can — and now you can too! Buen provecho.
Arroz Luz Catalina (Luz Catalina rice)
Adapted from “Arroz Luz Catalina” in Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s Mexico: The Cookbook (Phaidon, 2014)
3 c chicken stock
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1/4 c olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 c long-grain white rice
1/2 medium white onion, diced
2/3 c diced tomato
2/3 c frozen peas
1/3 c roasted red bell pepper, diced (approx. 4 oz.)
Salt, to taste
In a small saucepan, crumble the saffron into the chicken stock and set over low heat to warm.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, fry the garlic in the olive oil till golden brown; discard garlic. Increase heat to medium-high and add the rice; cook, stirring frequently, till the rice takes on a matte, light tan color. Add the onion and cook till translucent.
Add the tomato, peas, bell pepper, and warmed stock, with salt to taste. (This will vary depending on your stock; you want the liquid to taste mildly salty.) Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve.
Saffron! It’s so delicious, but it’s also the world’s most expensive spice. You can omit and still have a delicious dish. If you want, sprinkle a pinch of turmeric in the stock as it warms: you won’t get the same saffron taste, but you’ll get the attractive yellow color.
The oil could probably be reduced further, though the less oil there is, the more difficult it becomes to fry the rice. I’m guessing 2 Tbsp is about the lower limit, but feel free to push it further.
This is just begging for vegetables to be subbed in wildly. I wouldn’t worry too much about water content — this is a very wet rice, anyway, so a little more moisture shouldn’t hurt it — but I would be careful not to overload it so much that it becomes a vegetable dish with rice, instead of a rice dish with vegetables.