In my husband and late mother’s native Puerto Rico, rice dishes are a staple. Growing up, my mother would throw together rice dishes when money was stretched a little too thin. We never thought we were being deprived because the amount of flavor that was packed into a couple of cups of rice never belied its humble origins.
My mother was from “el campo,” or the countryside, of Puerto Rico. Rumor has it, my grandmother had to walk three days to get to closest registrar to record my mother’s birth. (As a result, we’re pretty uncertain as to my mother’s actual birthdate.)
My mother remembered little about the island, except that rice was an everyday dish at mealtimes. And it wasn’t just for dinner, either. No, rice was good for morning, noon, and evening meals.
What Is Salt Pork and How Is It Used?
Pork was also a daily part of the jibaros (country folk) diet. This recipe is made with salt pork, or tocino, which is typically made by curing pork belly in salt.
Pork belly is therefore higher in sodium than regular bacon, which might make you shy away from using it. But with no use of salt anywhere else in the recipe, I find it balances the intake to a moderate level. It also stays true to the country roots of the dish.
You'll need to blanch the salt pork in simmering water for 15 minutes prior to cutting. After cooking, rinse off the pork and allow it to cool before proceeding. If you're using bacon, you can skip the blanching process.
If you prefer, you can use a thick cut bacon in place of the salt pork. This will turn the dish into arroz con tocineta, but will still taste great, regardless.
Put an Egg On It!
Growing up, arroz con tocino was a quick meal that was economical for a large family. Among many of my Puerto Rican friends and family, topping the dish with a sunny side-up egg was the pièce de résistance—and a great way to add a bit more protein for not a lot of money.
More Puerto Rican Recipes to Try
Arroz con Tocino (Puerto Rican Rice with Salt Pork)
Recaito is a seasoning paste made of cilantro and Mexican coriander commonly used in Hispanic Caribbean cooking. You can find it in the Hispanic section of your supermarket.
Rinse the rice:
In a fine mesh colander or strainer, rinse the rice under cold running water until the water runs clear. This step eliminates additional starch which may cause the rice to become gummy. Set the colander aside and allow the rice to drain thoroughly.
Blanch the pork:
Place the pork in simmering water for 15 minutes. After cooking, rinse off the pork and allow it to cool before proceeding. (If you're using bacon, you can skip this step.)
Render the fat from the pork:
In a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, render the fat from the diced pork over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Remove the pork pieces from the pot using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Cook the onions, garlic, and recaito:
Drain all but 2 tablespoons of pork fat from the pot. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes, or until glossy. Add the minced garlic and recaito to the onions, and cook for an additional minute until fragrant.
Combine the rice, onion and pepper:
Add the drained rice to the pot and stir to combine the rice and onion mixture and to coat the rice with the fat. Continue to stir, toasting the rice for about a minute. Add the water and pepper, then bring to a boil.
Steam the rice:
Once the water has started boiling, reduce the heat to low. Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pot. Make sure the foil has about 2” in overhang. Place the lid onto the pot and press down. This addition of foil creates a more air-tight seal which helps to steam the rice perfectly.
Cook the rice for twenty minutes without removing the lid. Remove the lid and check that the rice is done; recover and continue to steam if needed. Once the rice has cooked fully, remove the lid and fluff with a spoon or a large fork.
Combine the pork, rice and cilantro:
Fold the reserved pieces of pork in the cooked rice and garnish with cilantro, if desired.
Top with a fried egg:
When ready to serve, fry an egg in your preferred style (I like mine sunny-side up) and serve atop a heaping portion of the rice.