Rice dishes are one of my favourites, but Valencian oven-baked rice or “Arroz al Horno” when I first came to Spain wasn’t exactly one them until I tasted the real deal. I took a disliking to it mainly because it was often too dry for my liking. However, when I learnt the tricks to get it right, everything changed. It was just a process of practice makes perfect to be honest. There is a fine line between an 'ok' rice and a great rice and I must admit it has taken me several attempts to even get close to a great “Arroz al Horno”, I wouldn’t say I have mastered it by any means but I am on the way. My last attempt went down very well with my Spanish family members. As with all traditional dishes they tend to be a lot of work but fortunately this dish isn’t that time consuming and the result is just fantastic. Valencian cuisine is normally eclipsed by the Paella but this dish is very much part of the Valencian’s staple diet. Traditionally it was prepared with the left overs from the “cocido”, a meat and vegetable stew/broth but nowadays everyone makes it with fresh ingredients. Another of it’s advantages is that it doesn’t make as much mess as a paella when you are cooking indoors!
This dish is cooked in a large flat earthenware dish. If you don’t have one you can also cook it in a non-stick baking pan. However the result is better in an earthenware dish. The ingredients you will need for this recipe are the following:
Ingredients for 4 people :
400g Round Valencian Rice – the same you use for a paella
300g Pork Ribs chopped up into small pieces
300g “Panceta” (thick cut bacon) chopped up into small pieces.
200g Grated tomato
4 Onion Morcillas ( Spanish black pudding)
1 large tomato cut into thick slices
1 large potato cut into thick slices
300g Cooked Chickpeas (garbanzos)
1 Whole head of garlic
1 litre approx. Chicken and vegetable stock
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (preferably Picual for frying)
(In Valencia you can buy "Arroz al horno meat packs" already made up in some supermarkets so if you find one you only need to pull together the rest. I like to add an little extra panceta if I buy a pack as they don't normally put much in them)
It looks like a lot of ingredients but it is fairly straight forward so I really encourage you to give it a go.
The first step is to get the oven on full heat so it starts heating up while you are preparing the rest and start heating the stock. It needs to be almost boiling when you add it to the pan. Add a little saffron to the stock to give it a bit of colour and when the stock is hot add the chickpeas to it to heat them up, keep the stock hot. If you have homemade stock fantastic but the chances are you won't and I didn't, so I used as most people do, a ready made stock from the supermarket.
Grab a frying pan, put in some extra virgin olive oil and start to fry the potatoes slices. They don’t need to be cooked just half cooked and slightly browned. Remove them and place to one side.
Now you need to fry the pork ribs. They need to be really well cooked so they go brown and crispy around the edges. Once the ribs are turning slightly brown pop in the whole garlic with the panceta until it goes crispy too. You need to put the pancetta in slightly later as it cooks faster than the ribs. Once ready remove it all from the pan and place the meat and the garlic in the earthenware dish.
Take the morcillas and quickly fry them, without cutting them up, in the fat that has been left in the pan, just for a couple of minutes and take them out. You are not cooking them now just sealing them and giving the fat a bit more flavour. The next step is to add the grated tomato to the oil with a teaspoon of paprika and fry it gently in the remaining oil for a minute or two. At this point you need to add the rice to the frying pan to seal it for a minute or so before putting it in the earthenware recipient. This will soak up all the fat and flavour from the pan and is essential for the final result. At this point you need to add the hot stock and the chickpeas to the earthenware dish as quickly as possible, move the ingredients around so they are all evenly in place and put the potato and tomato slices on top. Now place it immediately in the oven on full heat for 20 min (250ºC). During the last five minutes of the cooking time turn on the grill so it browns the top. When it is ready all the stock should have evaporated. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for a five minutes before serving.
As with all rice dishes the amount of stock or water is the key to success. The easiest way to measure the correct amount of rice and the correct amount of stock is to find a coffee cup or a small glass. I have one that holds approximately 100g of rice so I use one cup per person. The rule of thumb is for every cup/glass of rice you will need two cups of stock minus one from the total number. So if you are using 4 cups of rice you would need 7 cups of stock (using the same cup measurement).
The secret to this recipe is time management and really cooking the meat well. The objective is to get all the ingredients into the oven while they are still hot so the oven doesn’t have to heat them up but starts cooking straight away from the minute it goes in.
Now just serve up and enjoy. I accompanied this meal with a fantastic red wine that I bought from Carrefour, ILDVM - Tempranillo Colección Bolumar (€4). I highly recommend it. It is a spectacular red wine for the price. You will be really surprised. Hope you enjoy it!