red rice plate

Lovely lemur friend M gave us some dried chilies for Christmas and when the cold snap hit, it seemed like the perfect time to use them in something deeply warming and savoury. It turned properly cold here last week and I think everyone had some version of the same idea: comfort cook meats! There was an unprecedented queue at the local butcher and he told me everyone had been buying braising meat to the point that they had actually run out of pork belly. I swithered a bit and decided on a chicken and a few plump house-made chorizos. Nothing makes me feel quite so thrifty as using every part of a chicken and the chorizos reminded me of the Mexican chilies awaiting me at home.

Red rice is a hearty and very unassuming dish. It can be as simple as rice cooked with a tomato-based salsa and as such, you might think of it as a side dish rather than the main event. But it’s a palette made for variations and additions, and I like to add a bit of meaty flavour and a load of dark greens (it absorbs seemingly limitless amounts of them) to turn it into a one-pot meal. Besides, Mr Lemur has a bred-in-the-bone Latin American love for plain rice dishes and, after all, some of the world’s great dishes begin from nothing more than rice and chicken. This is one of those dishes that seem to involve a lot of steps but few of them call for close attention. It takes more time than effort so it’s the perfect thing to make over a weekend and it will feed you happily for days.

red rice basicsMexican red rice with chorizo and chicken

  • 3 chorizos (uncooked)
  • 1  chicken
  • 3 dried chipotles
  • 6 dried costeno roco chilies
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1  head of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped
  • some butter

Your first order of business is cooking the chicken. If you want, you can do this the day before and eat half of the chicken in a different form. You don’t need all of the chicken’s meat for this dish and in fact it’s a great use for day 2 of a roast chicken. But if you’re starting fresh, then begin by heating the oven to 200 C / 400 F / gas 6. Cut the garlic head in half across the middle and half the lemon. Stick half the lemon inside the bird and put the rest in the pan. Rub the chicken all over with butter and roast for about 90 minutes (depending on the size of your bird of course), basting occasionally, until its juices run clear.

Toward the end of the chicken cooking time, start your chilies. Cut them in half, remove the seed pods, and toast one at a time for a few seconds per side in a cast iron skillet, then soak in a bowl of hot water for 20 minutes.

costeno and chipotle

While they soak, remove all the meat from the chicken, reserving about half of it for another use. Keep the roasted garlic and chicken juices too – you’re going to want them. Pop the bones into a big pot, fill will water and bring to the boil. Simmer those while you work on other things – it will be chicken stock before you know it. When it has cooked down to about half its original amount of liquid, sieve out the chicken bones and reserve the stock. (If you do this part the day before, you can put the stock in the fridge overnight and then scrape off the fat the next day. Or, you know, not…)

When the chilies are nice and soft, chop them a bit and then blend in a mini-prep till they are as smooth as you can make them. You might need to add a spoonful of water. Pass the pulp through a sieve to remove the skin pieces. You should be left with a thick, silky dark puree that is spicy, smoky and a little bitter.  In a large bowl, mix the chilis with the tomatoes. Squash the garlic out of its cloves and add this too, along with the juice of the blood orange and a teaspoon of salt. Mix well.

cooking chorizo

Now to the actual rice cooking part! Heat the oven to the same temperature as before. Chop or tear up the chorizo into pieces. In a large, heavy bottomed and oven-safe pot, sauté it for a few minutes over a low to medium heat until it has rendered out a bunch of its fat and is beginning to brown a little. Finely dice the onion and red peppers and add these, frying until the onion is softened and starting to colour. Add the rice, and stir for several minutes. The idea is to coat all the rice in the fat and to get all the grains to turn white. When that happens, add the tomato chili mixture – it will spit and sizzle as the pan is very hot at this point! This is good as you want the salsa to cook a bit at this high heat. (This is a classic Rick Bayless trick to intensify the flavours of cooked salsas.) Mix in the rice well and stir for another minute, then add 2 cups of chicken stock, the chicken meat, the juices from the roasting pan and the kale. Add a bit more more salt at this point. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot and put it in the oven. Cook for 20-25 minutes. It will cook a bit more after you take it out of the oven, so taste after 20 minutes.

red rice done

Serves 4 (at least, ours seemed to last forever)