Unforgettable Rice from El Chepe


Unforgettable Rice from El Chepe

I wish each day had ten more hours so I could tell you about so many dishes already.

This is how behind I feel in all I want to share: Six weeks ago our family came back from the Copper Canyon in Mexico. I took notes, pictures, short videos, interviewed cooks, planted myself in their kitchens until forcefully uprooted by my husband, and ate like a mad woman from any interesting sounding dish, which was practically everything (partly with the purpose to come and tell you all about it…).

Then we came home, and life got in the way… I took longer to launch this site because I wanted to add more sections. By the time it was ready, so many weeks had gone by, I was eager to share more recent food excursions from my kitchen.

Yesterday, these red tomatoes reminded me of my delayed purpose. They looked perfectly ripe to become the base for that Mexican Style Rice we ate at the Chepe train (formally known as the Chihuahua al Pací­fico). It was unbelievable. Not only how good it tasted, but where and how it is made, every day.

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I expected to find scrumptious food along the Copper Canyon, but not aboard the train.  Used to pre-packaged sandwiches and microwaved hot dogs on the Amtrak, it was such a treat to choose from a full menu of home-style food.

As we sat on the cushy blue seats, we were amazed at how the individual place settings set on the wooden tables jumped without falling as the train rocked on the old wooden tracks.  With the light from the sun peeking through the window, the formally dressed waiters coming out of the kitchen appeared to step out from the Mexican 19th century, with charming mustaches in the like of the long gone Profirian era and all.

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More amazement, as they poured coffee, dancing as on a tight rope with the steaming pots at least 10 inches away from the cups they were aiming to fill. But even more amazement, after we tasted the food. Such good food on a train? I had puntas de filete with a side of refried beans, quesadillas and the best ever Mexican style rice. Even before dessert, this felt like a trip within the trip itself.

Each time, I would ask the waiter to introduce me to the cook in turn. There were not one but three cooks in a fully sized and stocked kitchen. Balancing as if on steady ground, up and down bridges, inside tunnels and around curves, they made some of the most comforting foods I can think of.

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Here is a tip:  when you go to the Chepe, disregard when train officers say the Restaurant is closed.  It seems to be a technique to help guests avoid long waits (or a bottleneck in the kitchen).  Go check it out yourself, there is typically no line and by the time they announce its open, the train ride may be over.  If you are not planning on going to the Chepe train soon, here is the recipe for that deliciously satisfying Mexican rice, shared by the chef in charge of the Chepe’s food and menu, Jesus Ley.

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There are of course many variations to this dish. You can substitute fresh tomato puree for 1 1/2 cups of canned puree. Except for few rice dishes, I always add some fresh squeezed lime juice. It makes it crisp and helps the flavors of the other ingredients shine through, but it is optional.You can include the carrots and peas, exclude them or change that vegetable such as by adding green beans and red bell peppers.

And yes, that chile serrano you see in the picture is optional. You can omit it, substitute it for a jalapeño, and can add a couple more if you like. But if you are having Mexicans over, watch out: those chiles that have absorbed the flavors from all the ingredients in that pot, are the rice treasure we all hunt for.

Mexican Style Rice

6 to 8 people
Pati Jinich
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: carrots, chicken broth, lime, Mexican rice, pati's mexican table, peas, rice, serrano chiles, Tomatoes
Author:Pati Jinich
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Arroz Rojo


  • 2 cups long or extra long grain white rice
  • 2 tomatoes, or about 1 pound, quartered
  • 1/3 cup white onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, optional
  • 2 parsley sprigs
  • 3/4 cup carrots, peeled and diced, optional
  • 1/2 cup shelled green peas, fresh of frozen, optional
  • 1 or 2 chiles serranos, optional

To Prepare

  • In a bowl, soak the rice in hot water for about 5 minutes. Rinse with cold water and drain very well.
  • While the rice soaks, purée the tomatoes in the blender along with the onion, garlic and salt. Pass through a strainer and reserve.
  • Heat the oil in a thick heavy skillet (if you have one with a transparent lid, pick that one) over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the rice and sauté, stirring often, until the color of the rice changes to a strong milky white and it shows more resistance and makes a heavier sound as you stir it around, probably about 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Pour in the strained tomato purée, mix it gently and let it cook until the color of the purée has darkened, thickened and is mostly absorbed, about 3 more minutes.
  • Stir in the chicken or vegetable broth and lime juice, give it a gentle stir and top with the parlsey sprig, the diced carrots, peas and serrano chiles, if so desired.
  • Let it all come to a boil, and when it does, put the cover on and reduce the heat to low and cook for about 20 minutes. Here is where that transparent lid becomes so handy, as you can see what is going on inside the pot without losing steam. You know the rice is ready when it is cooked through and tender, most of the liquid has been absorbed, but there is a lot of moisture in the pot. If the rice is not yet tender and the liquid has dried up, add a couple tablespoons more water, cover again and let it cook for a couple more minutes.
  • Let the rice sit covered for at least 5 minutes before you fluff with a fork and serve. You may also make it beforehand and reheat it covered over low heat with a tablespoon of water.

66 comments on “Unforgettable Rice from El Chepe

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  1. I made this per instructions and used the optional pepper at well. Will not be making again, it was very mushy and bland as well. While preparing I felt that there was to much cooking of the rice for it to come out right and I was correct. I enjoy other of Pati’s recipes, one being veggie loaded Mexican lasagna. Not this one.

  2. This was delicious! Mine came out just a little mushy / wet, but I think it might have been from stirring the rice too much at some point. Or possibly didn’t cook long enough? What’s the reasoning behind straining the tomato puree mixture? I’m tempted to just throw it all in the pot next time and see how that turns out.

    1. Hey Kristina, next time maybe do just 3 cups of chicken broth and do not stir or mix after combining with the broth. I do like to strain my tomato mixture so there wouldn’t be any seeds in the rice, but if you blend them well, you can throw them in without straining. Enjoy 😉

  3. Pati,
    Thank you so much for this perfect recipe! My husband and I really enjoyed it. We haven’t been to his family’s house lately because of the quarantine, so we were craving it. I appreciate detailed recipes, like this one, which ensured our success. We can’t wait to make your Tres Leches cake recipe next!

      1. Before cooked rice contains a lot of water, and also rice is a hard food to cook correctly, most people tend to under cook and over cook rice.

      1. Yes, she did saute that rice until it changed color, you may have skipped a step. Pati, can I use brown rice, I know it needs to cook longer?

  4. Hola Pati!!! You are the best. I will marry you some day, and I will cook for you!! (but only after you teach me!) All the best to you from Pittsburgh

  5. I have never been able to make Mexican/Spanish rice but I made this yesterday as a side at my Dad’s birthday dinner and it was fantastic! Wonderful recipe, thanks for sharing!

      1. Darn auto correct! I meant Hola Pati! I sounded like Robin from Batman. Thanks for answering. I followed your recipe but with the Romas and my kids said my rice was the best! I never knew about soaking the rice first. Gracias! 🙂

  6. This recipe works! I’ve tried several Mexican rice recipes and it usually comes out mushy or underdone. I served this yesterday for Christmas and everyone liked it. I omitted the extra vegetables, I added 1 Serrano pepper, and I used 4 Roma sized tomatoes from a can to make the purée. I also used a sprig of cilantro instead of the parsley because we were out of parsley. This is actually one of the easier rice recipes I’ve used, too. Thanks Pati!

  7. Hello Pati. My husband and I came across your show recently and we fell in love with it! I think my husband will love me even more after I make a few of your recipes :-). I really want to make this recipe, but Serrano Chiles are difficult to find in my area! Would jalapeno pepper be a suitable replacement for the Serrano Chile? Also, could I just use dried parsley? Thank you!

  8. Hi Pati, i have also never soaked the rice in water beforehand but i sure will try it now. what exactly does it do to the rice that is not accomplished by not soaking it? I’m trying this rice tonight along with the Chile Rellenos 🙂

    Many thx,

  9. No wonder my rice turns out mushy (I haver never soaked mine in hot water beforehand). I can’t wait to try this recipe, it reminds me of my home town El Paso,TX.

    Gracias .

  10. I love your show and your boys are adorable,they really love your food,so cute. I have 2 sons, they are already grown and graduated from college. So it reminds me of my sons when they were still growing,sigh. For the rice,I would like to add paprika and cayene, for color and flavor. Maybe even some cumin. Thank you for show and recipes. Many blessings to you and your family.

  11. Hi Patti!

    We recently moved to TX and I am trying to embrace the Tex-Mex culture by cooking local favorites.

    When I saw Nopales in the grocery store, I was intrigued and came across your site to learn about them. I have only tried one recipe so far and have another planned within the next few days.

    Now, I came searching for a good rice recipe and this sounds delicious! I am commenting, however, to find out about pureeing (sp). I have never owned a blender or food processor and have no idea what kind I might need. I don’t have much money to drop on one but I want one of good quality, that will do the job I need it to do effectively.

    I was wondering if the Magic Bullet is a good one, or not. What kid do you recommend and why??

    1. Hi Darla,
      I have tried many blenders through my cooking life… This is what I recommend, go with your hunch with the sturdiest looking blender you can get. Don’t get the small ones that specialize in making smoothies, they won’t resist much…

      1. Thanks! I think that I will try to make do, by hand or by can, until Christmas and ask for a Kitchen Aid, seeing as I love my mixer and cooking utensils.

        1. I have a blender and an older very powerful Cuisinart and both will puree well.
          But, I’m lazy and hate cleaning a blender by taking it apart so I bought a variable speed immersion blender (a fancy stick with a motor) and it has taken the place of a blender for many sauce recipes. (At least two fewer bowls to wash as well.)

          1. Ann, do you feel like it will hold-up for a while? What brand do you recommend? I was asking because I thought that something like that might be cheaper, therefore more readily available to me, but I was unsure of how well it would perform and last. Thanks!

  12. Hi! I found your site after checking out your cookbook from my local library. Problem: I don’t want to turn it back in! 🙂 I will have to purchase it soon:) I made the rice recipe (red) and the refried beans and my family all enjoyed…a rare thing! This rice recipe looks very similar to yours I may try the changes just for fun. Thanks!

  13. This takes rice to a whole new level. I agree with Pati that it will keep in the frig for a day. I’m also trying freezing it in and I may use some chickenstock plus lime juice to refresh it. There are only the two of us, so this makes enough to also become a welcomed left over.

  14. Pati, Thank you again for this site! I have been combing your recipes and copying them, since I did not write my Moms recipes down. This was the rice she always made and my sons favorite. In season we top it with fresh, sliced cantelope. My Mom’s parents were from Spain and she always ate it like this. It adds a cool sweetness to the rice.
    Muchisimas Gracias por tus recetas. Me has dado alegria…

  15. Pati – I recently found your site and have added it to my favs. You suggested using Goya sauce in a recipe and I made the switch when I made sopa. WOW what a wonderful difference. Thank you and I’ll look forward to visiting your site again and again.

  16. Thanks Pati
    My son loves Mexican Rice he calls it “Arroz Naranjita”
    Your recipe is wonderful. As a traditional recipe it changes a little in every mexican home.
    Your´s is so much better than the one we where using. We like adding some kernel corn (sometimes yellow canned, sometime white fresh).
    Thank you

    1. Hi Manuel! My boys call it “arroz rojito”, almost the same as yours… Great idea about the corn, will give it a shot… Thank you…

  17. Hi Pati,
    I’m just wondering how long this rice (as well as your refried beans recipe) will keep stored in the fridge? We’re going to have a big Mexican meal and I’m trying to decide which dishes I can make in advance. Thanks!

    1. Hi Emilee,
      I suggest you make the rice up to one day ahead of time, if prepared before, it hardens too much in the refrigerator and acquires a watery taste. After you make it, let it cool, store in a covered container and refrigerate. The next day you want to eat it, place it in a pan, add about a tablespoon of water, close it with a lid and reheat it over the lowest possible heat. However, it tastes the best when made the same day. You don’t have to make it right before you want to eat it, you can make it that same day, 4 to 6 hours ahead of time, and just reheat it over lowest possible heat.
      As for refried beans, you can make them up to 4 to 5 days ahead of time and just reheat in a pot, covered, over lowest possible heat as well. They taste great with crumbled Cotija or Farmers’ Cheese on top. Hope you have a great meal!!

  18. Pati, Your site is absolutely wonderful, and I’m so excited to try the new recipes. Can’t wait for the next Mexican Table events in the fall! We miss seeing you and learning all the new recipes and history of Mexico. Have been using the previous recipes on a VERY regular basis. I agree with one of the comments,chicken tinga on a tostada is the best.
    See you soon!

    1. Dearest Bonnie, Thank you very much for your comments! I am so happy the recipes from the classes are working in your kitchen and I really look forward to seeing you all in the next batch of classes…. I will try my best to have new menus and recipes you will also enjoy! Meanwhile… I will keep on posting things you can try here on this new site, let me know how you like them if you try them!! See you very soon…

  19. Hi Pati,
    This rice transported me back to Mexico! What a gorgeous photo, recipe and well, site!! I look forward to many more of your postings…and I’m doing that trip next time.
    -Un gustazo conocerte!

  20. I love the pictures. Whoever took them is a great photographer. Now how about an entry titled “unforgettable scallops from Cabo” to start to get the stomach juices flowing….

  21. Patricia, Thank you for sharing news about your trip to Chihuahua, and of course the yummy sounding rice recipe. I did not understand when to include the lime juice nor the chile. Could you please clarify? Many thanks. Adriana

    1. My pleasure Adriana! Look for the specific directions inside of the recipe, which follows directly form that post. But you add the lime juice after you add the chicken or vegetable broth, then you mix it all gently and add the chile, parsley sprigs and vegetables of your choice. Let me know if you try it!