I happen to love rice, but rice can be, well, rather boring. If you are tired of boring white rice, say hello to cilantro lime rice. This rice is herby, fresh, and zippy with freshly squeezed lime juice…the perfect way to add some oomph to your regular rice routine.
Below I share with you the inspiration for this dish as well as tips and tricks for making cilantro lime rice.
The sentence “My parents are coming to dinner” is enough to send any respectable daughter-in-law into a mild panic. Especially, when your husband tells you that they are coming that same day. No time to prepare. Empty fridge.
Luckily, my husband had the food situation mostly under control. So, before I had a coronary, he asked me to just make a simple rice side dish to accompany the fish he was going to prepare.
No problem, I thought. I got Mexican rice down like nobody’s business. I planned to impress my mother-in-law with my own take on her recipe for authentic Mexican red rice, a dish she had taught me to make some time ago.
But, sadly, a quick look through my fridge turned up no tomatoes, a critical ingredient in giving the red rice its color. I had no fresh vegetables, in fact, so my beautiful white rice with vegetables option was also out.
As I contemplated the thought of making a plain, boring white rice, I had a sudden flash of inspiration. What about cilantro lime rice? A little more elegant, but still easy to make.
I snipped a few stalks from the cilantro plant growing in our garden and pulled a few limes from our fruit basket. Now, I was ready to get cooking.
Tips for making Mexican-style rice
Mexicans eat a lot of rice. So it is no wonder that there are a variety of ways to prepare and enjoy rice in Mexico. I follow a traditional method of making Mexican-style rice, the same method that I use for making this cilantro lime rice.
If you are interested in making a traditional Mexican-style rice, there are a few tips that you should follow.
First, let’s talk about what rice you should use. Long, thin-grain rice is what is traditionally consumed in Mexico. I would suggest using long or medium-grain white rice for this recipe. I have not tested this recipe with whole-grain brown rice.
If you have read my other Mexican rice posts, you will know that I like to make my rice in a specific pan. I have found that the type of pan used is important. I typically make this rice in a stainless-steel skillet, about 12 inches wide with side walls about 3 inches high. If I am making significantly more rice, I use a large paellera (the pan used to make paella) or a traditional clay cazuela.
You don’t want a deep saucepan or a skillet that is too shallow or wide. A pot that is too deep will leave mushy rice at the bottom and won’t give you the room you need to carefully scrape and turn the rice. A skillet that is too shallow or wide will allow the liquid to cook off too quickly, resulting in rice that is underdone. I use a flat, wooden spatula to work the rice in the pan as it cooks.
I am not alone in my pickiness about which pan to use for rice. Diana Kennedy in her book El Arte de la Cocina Mexicana also suggests using a heavy bottomed pan, but one that is not too deep or wide. Experimenting with the pans that you have will help you to find the one that works best for you!
Making cilantro lime rice
The method that I use to make cilantro lime rice follows the same methods I use for making Mexican white rice, authentic Mexican red rice, and arroz verde. In fact, this recipe is really just a variation of Mexican white rice.
This rice is simple to make because the ingredient list is short and there is no sauce required to give the rice any color, like in the arroz verde or red rice versions.
The rice here is simply flavored with onion, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice to give it a zippy, fresh, herby taste.
Soak the rice
First, you will want to cover the rice in hot water and allow it to soak for about 15 minutes. Then, rinse it under cold water until the water runs clear. I like to let the rice dry a bit in a fine-meshed colander while I prepare my other ingredients.
Fry the rice in hot oil
The next step is important and I would say critical to getting the texture of this rice correct. Fry the rice, onion, and garlic in hot oil at medium-high heat until the rice begins to turn golden. I typically use safflower oil.
I spread the rice in a thin layer in the hot oil and scrape it from the bottom, turning the rice once or twice during this step. You don’t want to overwork the rice. My mother-in-law insists that the rice should not be moved too often, otherwise it will become mushy.
Add liquid gradually
Once the rice has started to turn golden, reduce the heat to medium. Add half of the broth to the pan and gently stir to incorporate. Once most of this liquid has been absorbed, add the rest of the broth, salt, and cilantro. Again, gently stir to incorporate.
In the US, most rice I have cooked uses a liquid to rice ratio of 2:1. This recipe uses 3 parts liquid to 1 part rice. Because of this ratio, the rice is cooked uncovered and only allowed to steam covered for the last few minutes.
You can gently scrape the rice from the bottom of the pan and turn it as the rice cooks. You don’t want to stir vigorously or move the rice too much. Scraping from the bottom of the pan ensures that the rice isn’t burning and allows the grains to cook evenly.
Once little holes start to appear on the surface of the rice, I remove the rice from the heat, and cover it with a clean kitchen towel and a lid (or aluminum foil). I let the rice rest for about 5 minutes and then check it for doneness.
The cooked rice should be soft, but each grain should be separated and not clumped together. If the rice is still hard, you can sprinkle a bit of broth over the top, cover, and allow to rest a bit more until softened.
Sprinkle with lime juice and extra cilantro for garnish. Enjoy!
Cilantro Lime Rice
- 1.5 cups medium or long grain white rice
- 6 tbsp vegetable oil I use safflower
- 1/4 medium white onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 4.5 cups chicken broth
- 3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped plus more for garnish
- 3 limes juiced
- Salt to taste
- Place rice in a bowl and cover with hot water for at least 15 minutes1.5 cups medium or long grain white rice
- Drain rice and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
- Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy bottomed skillet until shimmering. I use a stainless steel skillet, about 12 inches in diameter with side walls about 3 inches high.6 tbsp vegetable oil
- Add the rice, onion, and garlic and fry until rice starts to turn golden, scraping rice from the bottom of the skillet and turning gently once or twice, about 5-7 minutes1/4 medium white onion, finely diced, 2 cloves garlic, finely diced, 1.5 cups medium or long grain white rice
- Reduce heat to medium, add 2 cups of chicken broth to rice, stir to incorporate and simmer gently until the broth is almost absorbed, about 3-4 minutes. Ensure rice on bottom of pan is not burning by gently scraping the bottom of the pan and turning the rice. Take care not to over work the rice.4.5 cups chicken broth
- Add the remaining chicken broth, cilantro, and salt and continue allowing the rice to simmer until the liquid is almost absorbed and small holes appear in the rice mixture, 15-20 minutes.4.5 cups chicken broth, 3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped, Salt to taste
- Remove from heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel and lid. Allow to steam another 5 minutes or until liquid is completely absorbed.
- Sprinkle with the lime juice, add extra cilantro for garnish3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped, 3 limes juiced
- To check doneness, gently scrape the bottom of the pan and taste rice from the bottom. If the rice is soft, it is ready. If not, sprinkle with some additional broth and cover for a couple of additional minutes.