Simple Restaurant-Style Mexican Red Rice: Arroz Rojo

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How many times, after opening a can of tomato paste and removing the one tablespoon you need for a recipe, have you scratched your head wondering what to do with the rest of it? Here’s a new rule to live by: when you buy tomato paste, buy rice as well so you can make this red rice.

This simple, satisfying side dish takes only a few minutes to prep and tastes just like what you’d eat in a Mexican restaurant. Serve it on the side of refried beans or not-too-spicy black beans, tuck it inside a burrito or eat it on its own.

The fresh ingredients I put in this red rice dish prove Julia Child’s maxim for eating well:

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.

Whole garlic cloves

My daughter MK first cooked rice for us with whole garlic cloves buried inside the pot like little treasures. The garlic infuses the rice while the whole, cooked, pillow-soft cloves melt inside the lucky garlic hunter’s mouth in a burst of flavor.


In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain revealed several secrets for cooking food at home that tastes as good as restaurant food. One of them: cook with shallots.

You almost never see this item in a home kitchen, but out in the world they’re an essential ingredient. Shallots are one of the things—a basic prep item in every mise-en-place—which make restaurant food taste different from your food.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Shallots cost more than onions but the next ingredient on this list will more than compensate for that cost. And if you don’t have shallots on hand, use the onions that you do. Your rice will still taste fabulous.

Homemade vegetable broth

Any vegetable broth will suffice but homemade really elevates this red rice—or and any dish that calls for broth.

For the first batch of red rice that I cooked, photographed and ate for this post, I chose homemade corn cob broth. Sweet, tomato-complementing corn cob broth is my favorite type of vegetable broth.

For a second batch, I used a combination of 2 parts corn cob broth and 1 part tomato juice strained from fermented tomatoes. That juice contains no tomato pulp but simply clear liquid and tomato essence. It added even more flavor to this dish. I could have used all parts strained tomato juice but I love drinking it by the glass. I didn’t want to part with nearly two cups all at once.

Fermented tomato juice (left) and corn cob broth (right)

Homemade tomato paste

Relax, you don’t have to make your own. Any tomato paste will work in this recipe. But homemade will add more flavor, as homemade anything tends to do. If you’d like to make your own tomato paste now while tomatoes overrun markets and gardens, go here for the fermented tomato paste recipe and go here for the slow-cooked tomato paste recipe. I used fermented tomato paste for this post.

Fluff with a fork before serving

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4.50 from 2 votes

Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 3


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped or 1 small white onion
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 2 cups unsalted vegetable broth or water
  • 3 to 4 whole garlic cloves
  • cilantro, minced, optional for garnish


  • In a small pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced shallot or onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and combine well.
  • Add the salt, rice and broth or water and stir to combine. Drop in the garlic cloves.
  • Bring the rice to a boil, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, cover and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid, approximately 18 to 20 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and allow the rice to sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving and, if desired, sprinkle with minced cilantro.

7 Replies to “Simple Restaurant-Style Mexican Red Rice: Arroz Rojo”

  1. I never thought of fermenting corn water!

    1. I fermented the tomatoes not the corn water but now that you’ve mentioned it, I want to try that. I think I’ll add some ginger bug to my next batch. That would likely make a delicious drink. Thanks for the idea!

      1. Gosh, how incredible am I without even knowing it!

  2. Katanahamon says: Reply

    You might try rinsing the rice well as usual which removes extra gluggy starch, making the rice nice and cleanly separate, and allowing the rice to dry, and frying the rice’s more traditional to fry the rice and creates a texture very unlike all the non fried versions, you can put the fried rice in a fine mesh colander to drain the excess oil. You can also blend the onion, shallot, garlic component with the tomato and whatever else (cilantro, herbs etc) component, then add it to the fried and drained rice in a pot with broth in a couple additions to ensure fluffy, non mushy results.

    1. Thank you for these suggestions! We’ve been blending tomatoes with the onions and spices for chana masala and it tastes amazing.

  3. I’m so happy that I came across this recipe while searching for ways to store bread in the freezer. I recently ate at a local Mexican restaurant and the food was so delicious that I want to try to replicate my meal. This rice must be what they served.
    Thank you!

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