August 10, 2016

International Bento: Guam - Chamorro Red Rice

It's a funny thing, but I've been making this for quite a number of years, thinking that it was Mexican red rice. It is not. I mean, it makes sense, because Mexican cuisine makes good use of achiote seeds, and that is what gives the rice that nice red colour. I'm not even sure at what point I made the decision to make this dish, but it was cobbled together out of solid rice pilaf theory and the vague knowledge of Mexican red rice being a real thing. Which, of course, it is. It's just not this.

So recently, I had an idle moment of wondering how far my red rice differed from classic Mexican versions (taking into account that there are probably a few variations), and was startled to discover that what I was making didn't even come that close. Amused at my assumptions, I did a bit more creative googling, and discovered that what we have been happily devouring for several years now, is in fact a Guamanian dish called Chamorro red rice. The name Chamorro denotes the indigenous people of Guam (the name Chamorro also applies to the indigenous people from the Northern Mariana Islands).

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few different styles of this dish, too, including everything from bacon to peas. While many of the recipes use a very generous amount of oil, mine is more modest, meaning that the rice can go comfortably with a richer dish without feeling too heavy.

The biggest difference that I found between my recipe and most of the others available online, is that I grind the achiote seeds and use the resulting powder in the dish, rather than simply soaking them in water to colour the water, which is then used to flavour and colour the rice.

Chamorro Red Rice

Serves 4

200 grams parboiled rice
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
1 heaping teaspoon annatto seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
375 mL water and 1 teaspoon vegetable base (or equivalent vegetable broth)

Heat the oil in a medium pot (one with a tight-fitting lid). Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil, and then add the ground annatto, cumin, and salt. Stir well, then add the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil.

Add the water and vegetable base (or broth), stir, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, and allow to cook gently for 15 minutes (covered). Then remove the pot from the heat (don't just turn the burner off) and let it sit for another 5 - 10 minutes before you lift the lid. Fluff with a fork and serve.

So what else is in the bento pictured above? Smokey roasted chicken thigh (bone removed post cooking) and corn seasoned with lime juice, salt, and ancho powder.

I think this dish goes particularly well with Margarita Chicken.