Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo) Demystified

I’ve tried many recipes for Mexican red rice or “arroz rojo” and failed. My rice would be too gooey or too crunchy… I was definitely doing something wrong even though I thought I was following the instructions. Earlier this year my friend, Maria Elena, gave me a recipe for arroz rojo for a fish taco fundraiser that my Catholic Daughters of the Americas group was hosting. I lost the recipe in my email box somewhere — it was under someone else’s name and it was an attachment that had other recipes. So needless to say it took a while me to find it.

It was so darn simple! I can’t believe I over-complicated things (I take that back… I usually over-complicate things).  My main problem was that I didn’t use long-grain white rice. I’m a calrose rice chick… I grew up on that stuff. THAT is the reason why my rice turned out gooey. Another problem I found was that I always put too much tomato sauce. Too much tomato sauce doesn’t absorb into the rice. Lesson learned.

So here’s the recipe. It makes 4-6 servings.


  • 2 plum/roma tomatoes finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 1 ¾ cup chicken broth ( veg. broth or water)
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon of salt and about 1/4 tsp of pepper)
Mise en place. Prep this so you’re ready when you need it! (I forgot the cilantro… it still tasted good without it)


LONG GRAIN white rice. Don’t make my mistake!
Liquid ingredients

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat.

Add the onions and sauté until translucent (about 2-3 minutes).

Add the garlic and stir in the rice. Cook until slightly toasted, about 3 minutes. This will coat the rice and make it yum.

Add the broth, tomato sauce, and chopped tomatoes, bring to a boil.

Add the cilantro, oregano and salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.



Rice needs steam to cook it. Lifting the lid will remove the steam and increase your cooking time!

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the rice rest, covered for 8 minutes and you will get this:

It doesn’t look right, you say?

Well, fluff it with a fork.


Ta da! Easy as that.

And tasty too!

If you have a way to make it in the oven I’d like to hear it! I need to make this in larger quantities (in a pan) somehow. Stay tuned for more pieces of this meal! In the meantime, let me know what your favorite Mexican food/recipe is by posting in the comments below!

4 from 1 vote

Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)

My friend, Maria Elena, shared this recipe with me after my struggles with arroz rojo. It produces the perfect texture and flavor for this traditional Mexican side dish.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6
Author Melissa Hiatt (Making it Sweet)


  • 2 plum/roma tomatoes finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 1 ¾ cup chicken broth vegetable broth or water is good, too
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste I used about 1 teaspoon of salt and about 1/4 tsp of pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and sauté until translucent (about 2-3 minutes).
  3. Add the garlic and stir in the rice. Cook until slightly toasted, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the broth, tomato sauce, and chopped tomatoes, bring to a boil.
  5. Add the cilantro, oregano and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
  7. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and let the rice rest, covered for 8 minutes.
  8. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Recipe Notes

You may omit the cilantro if you're not a fan of the flavor. I personally like it - but the rice without cilantro tastes just as good.

32 thoughts on “Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo) Demystified

    1. Thanks for the pin! Yes, it turned out just fine without cilantro. Cooked cilantro tastes different than fresh, so you never know… you just might like it! I’d equate it to adding nutmeg to your spinach or cream sauce to boost the flavor without people knowing that it’s in there.

  1. According to chef Rick Bayless, cooking rice in the oven is the best way to make it cook evenly and thoroughly. Here is the unabridged recipe from his (I’ve forgotten which) cookbook.

    Classic Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)
    This is, more or less, the preparation that completes the expression “beans and” in Mexican kitchens, whether they’re north or south of the Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo. Mexican or Mexican-American, tomato-tinted rice offers just the right flavors to combine with practically anything the cooks make. When that classic tomato flavor weaves its way in gently from the addition of bottled tomato salsa, the kitchen craft becomes easier. Using the oven to finish the cooking means carefree, even, slow cooking (no burnt pot bottom or underdone rice grains). All you need is an ovenproof pan with a lid.
    Serves 6 to 8
    1 ½ tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
    1 ½ cups white rice (I like the meatier texture of medium-grain rice)
    1 cup bottled tomato salsa (add 2 tbsp lime juice and 1/4c. chopped cilantro if desired; blend)
    1 c. chicken broth
    1 ½ c. frozen peas
    Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Set a medium (3qt) ovenproof saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and rice. Stir frequently until the grains of rice turn from translucent to milky-white, about 5 minutes—don’t worry if some of them brown. Add the salsa, chicken broth and ½ tsp salt. Stir a couple of times, then let the mixture come to a full boil.
    Cover the pan and set in the middle of the oven. Bake 20 minutes. Uncover, add the peas and re-cover. Bake 5 minutes longer, then remove from the oven and let stand 5 minutes.
    Fluff the rice, releasing the steam and mixing in the peas. Serve.
    Just a few of the many possible Mexican Rice Riffs
    Halved garlic cloves, chopped red, white, or green onion and sliced onions can be sautéed with the raw rice. Cubed peeled carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, even Jerusalem artichokes or kohlrabi can go in with the salsa. Chopped snow peas or green beans can replace the peas. I really like to boost the flavor and texture of classic Mexican red rice with a roasted poblano (roast it over an open flame or under a broiler, then peel, seed and chop), fresh corn kernels and a handful of chopped cilantro, arugula or watercress leaves—all added along with the peas.
    Turning a pot of Mexican Rice into Dinner
    In a medium-large (4-6 qt) heavy pot, brown 8 chicken thighs (bone-in ones cook most evenly) in the oil over medium-high heat. Remove to a plate. Prepare the recipes as directed, nestling the browned chicken thighs into the pot when you add the broth.
    Red Rice in a Rice Cooker
    When I need to keep rice warm for more than a few minutes before serving, I sauté the rice, scrape it into my rice cooker, add the remaining ingredients and let the cooker do the rest—no need for the oven

    Chunky Fresh Tomato Salsa (Salsa Mexicana)
    Makes 2 cups
    1 garlic clove, peeled
    Fresh hot green chiles to taste (I like 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed and halved
    2 medium-large (about 2 total) round ripe tomatoes
    1/3 c. (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro
    1 large green onion, roots and wilted outer leaves removed, chopped into small pieces
    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

    Drop the garlic and chile pieces one at a time into a running food processor, letting each get finely chopped before adding the next. Turn off the processor and remove the lid. Cut 1 tomato in quarters and add it to the food processor, along with the cilantro. Cut 1 tomato in quarters and add it to the food processor, along with the cilantro. Pulse 4 to 6 times, until you have a coarse puree. Scrape the mixture into a bowl.
    Cut the other tomato into ¼-inch piece and add to the bowl, along with the green onion. Taste and season with lime juice and salt, usually a generous ½ teaspoon. This salsa is best if eaten within an hour or two, but will keep for a number of hours in the refrigerator.
    Riffs on Salsa Mexicana
    Chopped raw tomatillos can replace some of the chopped tomato. The cilantro can be replaced or augmented by pungent herbs like Mexican pipicha, papalo, or hoja santa, or saw-tooth cilantro (aka raurau in Asian markets). Any of the lemony or anisey herbs, from lemon verbena to lemon balm to anise hyssop, give the salsa a special character. I love the addition of avocado, cucumber and jicama—but not necessarily all at once. The same goes for ripe mango.

    1. Wow, thank you for the reply! I will try the oven method out since our fish dinner is coming up soon. It’s good to know that it can be done in a rice cooker, too! I’d probably go that route if it turns out well.

    1. In my experience with cooking rice, it seems to always work out to be 15 minutes after it boils, no matter what quantity. So to answer your question (in a roundabout way) it would take longer for the rice to reach a boil which will increase overall cooking time, but the steaming stage (reducing to low, covering, letting it stand) will be the same.

  2. This is AMAZING! Thank you for the recipe! I have been trying to crack the arroz rojo code for quite some time and you nailed it!

    1. Thanks, Betsey! I’m glad my friend set me straight with my cooking method. I’m glad it worked for you, too!

  3. My family LOVED this recipe! I doubled everything except the chili powder and the cumin (I have tender little mouths to feed). The rice had so much flavor! Thank you for posting!!!

  4. We are doing a Mexican Feast for Christmas this year! Glad I remembered this on here! Yum!

  5. I always have rice made at my house, I do the traditional Mexican rice, but we don’t add oregano nor can tomato sauce. It takes away the real Mexican rice flavor. Your rice looks really good though.

    1. I’d love to try your recipe! Would you mind sharing it? I’m always up for something new!

  6. Love Mexican red rice! Thanks for recipe because it is tricky. Fun doing Monday link up with you!

  7. I realized too (the hard way) that the type of rice you use makes a difference. This looks delicious and super simple!

  8. Exactly what Mexican cook said! My grandma, who is Mexican taught me how to make her rice, and it is so simple, I always am shocked when find recipes for it that call for a lot of ingredients…hers was just oil, rice, garlic, onion and chopped tomato and a little salt and pepper, no cilantro or oregano! And I agree about the tomato sauce, I believe that is an Americanization of traditional Mexican rice! This is how I make it: About 1 T. oil in a pan, 2 or 3 smashed garlic cloves, lightly brown them in the oil, then add 2 cups long grain rice, toast that till it’s lightly browned, slowly add in 4 cups of chicken broth (I use low sodium), about 1/2 cup chopped white onion (my grandma always added this in raw), about 1 cup chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, bring it all to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, put a lid on it, and simmer for 20 minutes on low/med heat! It comes out perfect every time!

  9. This was the best Mexican Rice I’ve made BY FAR. Thank you for the tips! I used about 1/2 tsp oregano because that was all that was left in my jar and it was perfect. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. none. I was taught very young how to do Mexican rice (Tex-Mex, maybe) and there was no fresh diced tomato. The lady straight from Mexico said use canned sauce or paste.

  10. It’s easy to double the recipe. For every cup of rice just double the liquid amount (2 cups rice=4 cups liquid). I also use Jasmine rice it comes out perfect every time!

  11. omg you’ve made the most USER FRIENDLY and least complicated recipe I’ve found yet!! I cant wait to try this tonight! I really appreciate all the pictures at the different stages. it really really helps people like me who are still learning how to cook!

  12. 4 stars
    Pretty great, for an Americanized version of arroz Mexicano. I have my own recipe for when I want a really authentic flavor, but this was good when my blender broke and the one I ordered wasn’t ready for pickup on time.
    My recipe uses charred whole fresh tomatoes, grilles onions, and grilled garlic, blended with knorr caldo de tómate to taste and hot water, the rice toasted golden with lard instead of oil, then mixed with canned peas and carrots, added the blended mixture to the rice, and cooked on medium, covered for 18 minutes. I sometimes omit the tomatoes and switch caldo de pollo for the caldo de tomate to make a white version. The ratio of water to rice is 2:1, and the amount of tomato to rice is 1:1 based on weight.

    1. Thanks for the comment – Your version definitely sounds delicious! I might have to try it with charred tomatoes once my garden produces more in the late spring. I’m sure every Mexican family’s arroz rojo recipe differs, just like my chicken adobo recipe is not like every other Filipino household’s. So I wouldn’t be too quick to call this recipe “Americanized.” I don’t want discount my friend, Maria Elena, who shared this recipe with me. She is from Mexico and this is how she has been cooking it since she was young. Her recipe is not for lack of ingredients, either. We live in a border town and have many Mexican markets. Some of my friends say peas and carrots are a no-no and some say “bring it on!” I say if it tastes good, why not?

      Thanks again for the comment – I will have to try your recipe!

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