A Unique Twist on a Beloved Dish

Isa Taylor, Blog

Rice is a common staple found in the cuisine of almost every culture, whether by itself or mixed with other ingredients to make a new and unique dish. My childhood meals always featured the food in some way, but by far my favorite dish with it was Chamorro red rice. This rice dish isn’t completely revolutionary in the way it features the grain, but it transforms the familiar flavor into something very distinctive from other dishes, and best of all is an easy, simple way for me to connect with my Chammoro roots.

This dish holds a special place in my heart, as it always reminds me of large parties with my extended family in the Marianas Islands. Red rice is a staple in every Chammoro gathering and will surely be the star of whatever party you go to. 

The main point of novelty is its vibrant, bright orange-red color. This results from the star ingredient, achiote, a spice powder made from the dried ground seeds of the Bixa orellana shrub. The spice gives a deep earthy flavor, making the dish much more colorful and enticing. The typical method of incorporating this is through Sazon Goya seasoning packets containing achiote and other spices such as coriander, cumin, and oregano. They can be found in most Latin American or Micronesian markets.

The traditional way uses pure achiote, which is completely fine as long as you account for the fact that you will have to add extra ingredients to replicate the same flavor. 

The other ingredient that completes this dish is the use of bacon. Typically you would use the meat and fat to create an intense umami flavor, but some families use other types of animal fat, oil, or skip it altogether. However, I think red rice is not complete without that signature meat taste, so I highly recommend using bacon if possible. 

This dish is perfect as both a side and a main dish, as it accompanies many proteins and heavy meals well, but its flavor can stand alone as the star. Its versatility is unmatched, and it depends on how the cook prepares it.

There are no strict rules to make red rice and infinite ways to make it, but I’m going to share my family’s method of cooking it (aka the best way to make red rice).

Recipe (makes 5 cups of rice)

**This recipe can be made on a stovetop and in a rice cooker; follow the same steps for both. 

Ingredients

  • 5 cups of white rice 
  • 4 bacon strips 
  • ½ an onion 
  • 3 garlic cloves 
  • 3 to 4 packets of Sazon Goya 
  • Salt 
  • Pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered achiote (optional)
  • Green onion (optional) 
The ingredients for Chamorro Red Rice include onion, garlic, and achiote. The Chamorro people are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands. (Isa Taylor)

Steps

  1. Start by chopping the onion, garlic, and bacon into bite-size pieces. Have a pot (big enough to hold all the rice and other ingredients) heating on medium-low while prepping.
  2. Render out the fat from the bacon in the pot. Once crispy, put it aside and cook the onions until soft (about 10-15 minutes). Add garlic when the onions are done and cook until fragrant (1-2 minutes).  
  3. Turn off the heat or keep it on low. Add in washed rice, bacon, and enough water to cook the rice and stir to combine. Pour in the Sazon Goya packets, extra achiote, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix in the seasonings and adjust as needed. The flavor of the water will flavor the rice. 

**Depending on how you want to use this dish, add less Sazon Goya seasoning if you want it not to be as flavorful so it can accompany other dishes as a side.

Other ingredients for Chamorro Red Rice are three to four packets of Sazon Goya and achiote. (Isa Taylor)

4. Let the rice boil on high while occasionally stirring to prevent ingredients from sticking to the bottom. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Let the rice cook for 20-30 minutes. 

5. When cooked, turn off the heat and fluff the rice with a fork.

Serve and enjoy!

The dish can be either a main or a side. Short-grained rice prepared with water colored from soaking achiote (annatto) seeds gives it a deep orange color. (Isa Taylor)