Guamanian Cuisine — Red Rice

Guam’s position in the western Pacific Ocean has established it as a stopover point for Transpacific travel for centuries.  The indigenous Guamanians, the Chamorros, probably arrived about four thousand years ago from southeast Asia.  The Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed on the island in 1521, and it was settled and colonized by Spain about a century-and-a-half later.  Spanish rule held until 1898 when Guam was ceded to the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War.  Japan controlled the island for a three-year period during World War 2, and after United States intervention Guam has remained a U.S. possession ever since.

Guam quick facts:

  • Capital: Hagåtña
  • Population: 159,358 (2010 census)
  • Notable Guamanians: Ann Curry, Donovan Patton

Over the centuries of Spanish and American colonization (and immigration from the Philippines, Japan, China, and Korea) Guamanian cuisine has developed an identity of its own.  One dish that is a reflection of those influences is red rice.  The Spanish brought achiote, or annato, seeds from their colony in Mexico and their own paella techniques, and a dish that is now served at nearly every Guamanian gathering was born.

Red rice, in its most basic form, is simply rice, onions, and achiote.  Some cooks add other ingredients like bacon or garlic, or spices like coriander.  We wanted to present red rice in a basic form.

Achiote can be found in Hispanic grocery stores as whole seed, ground seed, and a seasoned paste.  Instructions on using whole seed or paste can be found in the linked recipes presented in this article.

Red Rice

(adapted from The Scent of Green Bananas and Just a Pinch Recipes)

  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 Tbs achiote powder
  • 1 cup short-grain rice, like calrose
  • 1 3/4 c water

First, the rice was rinsed until the water that ran off was clear:

ricerinsing

Then the oil was heated in a saucepan and the onions were sauteed until softened, about five minutes.  Next, the achiote powder was added:

achioteandonions

…and the rice:

riceachioteandonions

Everything was stirred over the heat until thoroughly combined:

ricemixedtogether

The water was added and the rice was brought to a simmer:

ricesimmering

The pot was covered with its lid, the heat turned down to low, and the rice was allowed to simmer undisturbed for twenty minutes.  After twenty minutes, the cooked rice was stirred to evenly distribute the little liquid that remained:

ricefinished

The lid was placed back on the pot off the heat to keep the rice warm and to allow it to finish cooking slightly.

A little achiote goes a long way in turning this rice a deep brick red color.  The flavor is subtly tangy and a little smoky and it certainly looks dramatic on the plate.

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