Disclaimer: if you are looking for exact, step-by-step directions
to make the perfect pot of rice every time, look somewhere else.
When you ask a Nicaraguan how to make rice you will get the most
vague, un-exact set of directions you've ever heard, and you will
be left with a million unanswered questions (That everyone will
answer differently). This is the country where people use fistfuls
as a measurement. Everyone makes rice a bit differently.
Sometimes it tastes amazing, sometimes its just...rice.
Not bragging or anything, but my mother-in-law has the rice thing down. Her rice is always great. I have heard lots of people talk about how “Doña Mer (Mercedes) makes her rice grow” (aka, it expand). If you really know how to cook rice, it grows.
It took almost 4 years of marriage before I finally broke down and asked Mer to teach me to cook rice HER way. David taught me early on…and it was so confusing I just didn’t cook it. Then we got a rice maker, and David happily ate rice for a few years without telling me that rice made in a rice maker just isn’t the same. (One day one of his brothers finally spoke up and I realized I had been serving sub-par rice for years!) Since Mer taught me, I’ve been making rice at least once a week, sometimes more. It’s actually easy to do once you figure it out.
So here we go. The most vague set of cooking instructions known to man.
First, you need the right cookware. You can’t just cook rice in any old pot, you know? If you use a pot with straight sides you will likely get rice stuck in the bottom that will burn and ruin it all. I recommend something like this pot:
You can buy cast aluminum pots like this anywhere in Nicaragua. They sell them in the markets and on street corners. You can buy ones small enough for a kids play kitchen, and big enough to cook rice for 100+ people. I can cook 1lbs of rice in this pot. I could probably get 2lb in there if I was really careful when stirring.
You will need:
1 cast-aluminum pot with lid (or something similar).
1 big metal spoon. (a wooden spoon doesn’t efficiently scrape the bottom of the pot.)
Rice (Some people are passionate about the quality of their rice. We use El Faisán.)
[You're probably asking, "how much?". Well, here's the thing: I don't know. When I was taught how to cook rice there were no measuring cups or spoons used. You just have to eye-ball it. When I made this rice I didn't measure the oil, salt or water. I used 1lb of rice, and about 1/3 of a medium-sized onion.]
How to cook rice:
1. Travel to Nicaragua and purchase a cast-aluminum pot. (Just kidding! But hey, if you come down, swing by my house!)
[optional step: wash your rice. I seriously don't understand the washing the rice thing. It would make sense if you are buying rice from the big open sacks in an open air market. But even when Nicaraguans buy the pre-packaged rice they still find it necessary to pre-wash the rice. To wash the rice you need to pour it into a bowl, and cover it with water. Swish the rice around with your hands a bit and then pour out the water. Repeat until you think the rice is sufficiently clean.]
(Full disclosure: I don’t pre-wash my rice. And when I do, I think it tastes exactly the same.)
1. Turn on your burner to high, add some oil to the pot. If you add too much oil your rice will be…oily. So stick with just a bit. If I add to much I either scoop some out with a spoon, or add extra rice!
2. add your chopped onion to the hot oil, mix it up a bit.
3. When your onion is nice and sizzle-y, pour your rice into the pot. use your spoon to coat the rice in the oil.
4. (this part was hard for me to get the hang of.) Don’t hover over your rice! Let it cook a bit in the oil. Do other things, prep the rest of your food. Every once in a while go back and give the rice a stir. Some of the grains of rice should get a nice toasty colour.
5. I add my salt at this point, only because if I don’t I will forget completely. To make true Nicaragua rice you need to add more salt then you would think is necessary. Nicaraguans love their salt. Add your salt and keep toastin’!
7. When your rice is nice and toasty (but not burnt) its time to add the water. Careful, because when you add water to hot, oily rice you are going to get some instant boiling and sizzling. When my mother-in-law explained how much water I should add, she showed me with her finger. If you put your finger straight down in the water until it barely touches the rice, the water should come up the top of your nail (the cuticle).
But here’s the thing… the water is BOILING. How are you going to put your finger in there?! And, with all the onion/oil/toasty rice the water is not going to be clear….so its hard to see when the rice is!
So keep this in mind: Too much water will ruin your rice, it will be soggy and over cooked, and you can’t fix it later. But too little can be corrected later by just adding an extra sprinkle. So, just like the oil, less is better.
8. Give your rice a stir every few minutes as the water is boiling down.
9. When the rice is still wet, but there is no visible water ON TOP of the rice, (there are holes in the rice where the water vapor is escaping), give your rice a stir, turn down the heat to low, and put the lid on.
10. Again, don’t hover! Check and stir the rice every once in a while to make sure it’s not burning. When it seems to be getting dry give it a little taste. If it’s a bit hard, sprinkle some water over the rice and leave it a few more minutes.
11. Enjoy your (hopefully) tasty Nicaraguan rice!
You can serve this rice with everything.
(Actually, in Nicaragua many people think that if there is no rice, then it’s not really a meal. Even if there are potatoes, and pasta, and bread, you still need your rice!)
p.s. Sick and tired of plain white rice? (ya, me too sometimes!) Use chicken broth instead of water for a yummy change. Or add carrots (chopped or grated) and other veggies. There are endless ways to make rice less boring, Let me know if you have any secrets!