Yellow (Spanish) Rice

One of the more unexpected tasks that come with writing a cookbook is establishing a baseline for the reader. For example, presenting a simple (meat + rice) recipe isn’t as simple as throwing together (meat + rice), especially if you’re going to reference a similar rice preparation in other parts of the book. So a (meat + rice) recipe turns into two separate recipes – one for the meat, and another for the rice. Likewise, if you want any vegetables to accompany the dish, you need to decide whether to include the vegetables as part of that recipe, or create a standalone vegetable side. And since the rice recipe will likely call for broth, you need a broth recipe, too. The layers keep coming, until the book just grows and grows.

This concept isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it allows me to focus deliberately on each portion of the dish to make sure it gets the attention it deserves. So today I’m going to share with you a simple recipe for Spanish Rice, sometimes referred to as Yellow Rice (Arroz Amarillo), which I’ll use a few different times in my upcoming cookbook. This recipe uses a healthy two pinches of saffron for its distinct yellow color, a reflection of its Spanish roots and famous cousin, Paella. Some preparations use annatto (anchiote) seeds to give the rice its yellow color, and I have included instructions for both methods below. The saffron and annatto will each bring very subtle flavors to the rice: the saffron is floral and a little pungent, while the annatto is nutty with hints of nutmeg. If you own both saffron and annatto, feel free to use them at the same time.

Yellow (Spanish) Rice (Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet)

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy

2 pinches saffron (about 15 strands) or 2 tbsp annatto seeds
1/2 cup hot water
1 tbsp olive oil, lard, or bacon grease
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1 cup chopped, see note below)
2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth (or 1 cup dry white wine + 2 cups chicken broth)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt, more to taste

1. Prepare the saffron or annatto seeds to color the rice: place the saffron in a small bowl, crushing the strands with your fingers, or place the annatto seeds in a small bowl. Fill with 1/2 cup hot water and set aside.

2. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until just softened, about 5 minutes, then stir in the bell pepper and sauté until softened, another 4 minutes. Stir in the rice and garlic, and sauté until the rice is well-coated and starting to turn opaque, stirring constantly to prevent sticking, about 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the chicken broth, tomato paste, salt, and the saffron and its liquid (or the annatto seed liquid – but not the seeds!). Bring to a simmer then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the liquid has evaporated (listen for when the rice stops bubbling and starts to hiss), about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside, covered and undisturbed, for at least 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste before serving.

** For a more balanced color, use 1/2 red bell pepper and 1/2 green bell pepper, which you can see in the picture above. But that leaves you with a logistical problem, so using 1 whole bell pepper is just fine in my book.

** This recipe makes rice with a bit of bite to it, just the way I like it. For softer, fluffier rice, add an additional 1/2 cup of broth. In truth, I rarely measure out my broth, I just add enough to cover the rice by 1/2″ to 1″ and it always turns out fine; the key is to remove it from heat when it starts to hiss, and to not touch the lid for 10 minutes while the rice settles and absorbs the remaining liquid.

** If you use the wine/broth combo instead of just broth, add the wine first and let it simmer for a couple minutes, stirring often, before adding the broth and proceeding as directed.

** For extra flavor, fry up some bacon as your first step, and remove it with a slotted spoon and use that rendered fat instead of the 1 tbsp oil specified above. Stir in the bacon before serving.

** To make Arroz Rojo, which is more commonly associated with Mexican cuisine, use 1 cup (8oz) tomato sauce in place of the tomato paste and reduce the broth by 3/4 cup.

** If you own a skillet or pot with a glass lid, use it – it’ll make it much easier for you to check on the rice’s progress without disturbing anything. I like to spin the lid a little, to clear any condensation and so I can get a better look.

** Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) instructions: for Step #2, use the “Sauté” function of the Instant Pot. For Step #3, add the remaining ingredients then cover and press the “Rice” button. Allow to depressurize naturally before removing the lid, about 15 minutes after it is done cooking.

Note: In the year leading up to my new cookbook’s release, I will be regularly releasing these recipes to 1) maintain a continuing conversation with my readership and 2) give visitors to this site an opportunity to test and provide feedback before editing. For more information on this new approach, read my post here.

22 thoughts on “Yellow (Spanish) Rice

  1. I don’t think you can replace saffron with annatto without modifying the procedure here. I’d tried boiling annatto in water a couple weeks ago (trying to get a yellow pickle brine for danmuji), but that didn’t produce the color that you get from toasting annatto in oil (like you did in Arroz con Pollo, which was quite good!)


    1. Hi Matt, I appreciate the feedback – I tested the recipe with just saffron, just annatto, and both, and the results were very similar. I think that in the end, the tomato paste ends up giving a lot of color to the rice, and the saffron/annatto just nudge it closer to a nice yellow. But I think using anchiote oil (like in Arroz con Pollo) would definitely get a brighter yellow, great idea!


  2. I think you are responsible for many of us here wanting to use our Instant Pots as much as possible. Any changes to the proportions to try that?


    1. Hi Diana, great question – I’m going to update the recipe with IP instructions. Basically, you’d just want to use the “Saute” function on the IP and then press the “Rice” button once you add the broth – no other tweaks needed. I really should have thought of this earlier, and I appreciate the feedback; prior to getting an IP, I would do something similar by sauteing the veggies and rice in a skillet and then transfer everything to my rice cooker.


  3. I haven’t had Spanish rice since my mom passed away. It’s a shame I never got her recipe because it was delicious but I know she wouldn’t have ever spent the money for saffron.


  4. I like to add a * pinch * of ” Cumin Powder ” to my Spanish Style Rice.. It adds lots ” Aromatic ” , with a hint of flavor.


  5. Great recipe……..fantastic flavor. Thank you! Looking forward to your new book Russ!
    That spoon is very cool.


  6. P.S.: ( #2 ) Sautéing the Onions & Rice in oil, adds soooo much more flavors, along with using a ( (#3) Chicken Stock, instead of plain water ( :

    I normally, sauté my Rice until it turns slightly brown,, I think it adds a slightly nutty flavor.


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