Arroz con gandules is Puerto Rico’s national dish for a reason! Served for the holidays, this flavorful and authentic Puerto Rican rice with pigeon peas is made with gandules (pigeon peas), salty green olives and flavorful sofrito.
Why You Will Love This Arroz Con Gandules Recipe
Each bite is more addictive than the last with a combination of textures and lots of Puerto Rican flavor. Here’s why I know you will love it:
- Authentic: Every family makes theirs a little differently, but this is how I grew up making arroz con gandules in my abuela’s kitchen in San Juan. The pegao, crispy rice bottom, is the best part!
- Flavorful: This dish is packed with flavor from the traditional sofrito, tomato sauce, gandules, salty olives and mix of Puerto Rican spices.
- Holiday Favorite: A heaping serving of arroz con gandules underneath mouthwatering pernil, with a glass of coquito, is the ultimate Puerto Rican holiday dish! Making this meal is the most delicious way to elevate your Christmas dinner.
Ingredients Needed For Puerto Rican Rice
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this classic Puerto Rican rice with pigeon peas. Check the recipe card at the bottom of the post for exact amounts.
- Oil: I grew up using vegetable oil, however olive oil or avocado oil will both work just fine. Some families use achiote oil for an added layer of flavor and color.
- Gandules: Frozen or canned pigeon peas (small sized green peas with an oval shape that have a slightly nutty flavor).
- Tomato Sauce
- Green Olives: Optional. You can leave these whole or slice them.
- Sofrito: Sofrito, a Puerto Rican cuisine staple, is a blend of tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, and garlic. You can use homemade or store bought sofrito.
- Sazon: I used my homemade sazon seasoning, but you can also use store bought Sazon con culantro y achiote. This adds the classic flavor and color to the rice, you can not skip it.
- Seasonings: Besides sazon, you will need adobo, salt, black pepper and cumin powder.
- Rice: I use arroz Rico, but you can use any brand of medium grain white rice that is rinsed to remove any extra starch.
- Ham or Bacon: Optional, but adds a lot of flavor.
How to Make Arroz con Gandules
While there are a few steps, this Puerto Rican rice recipe is easier than it looks. For full detailed directions, head to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Meat: Heat a large dutch oven, or a traditional caldero, and cook the meat until crispy. Remove meat, but leaving the drippings. (If not using meat, add oil.)
- Flavor: Add the gandules, tomato sauce, green olives, sofrito and seasonings. Stir to fully combine. Once the mixture of ingredients becomes fragrant, pour in the water and bring it to a boil over high heat.
- Add Rice: Once boiling, add the rice and stir until rice is submerged and pigeon peas are distributed evenly. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes. Traditionally the rice would be covered with a banana or plantain leaf. However, a tight fitting pot lid will work just fine!
- Stir: About half way through cooking, remove the lid and stir by folding rice from the bottom up, but do not disturb the rice at the bottom of pan. (Some Puerto Ricans insist that you don’t stir the rice while cooking to get the best pegao, crispy rice bottom. However, I find stirring it once cooks everything more evenly. Whatever you do, make sure you only stir it once or the rice can become sticky/mushy.)
- Steam: Remove the arroz con gandules from the heat and let it sit for an additional 10 minutes before serving. This is called letting the rice “steam”. The rice is done once all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff and stir the rice, then serve!
Tips For Success
Here are some tips to help guarantee your Puerto Rican rice dish turns out perfect:
- Rinse The Rice: It is super important that you rinse your rice. Use a fine mesh sieve and rinse your rice with water in the sink. This quick step will save you a lot of heartache later by giving you perfectly cooked rice.
- Types Of Rice: Medium grain rice is the traditional rice used in Puerto Rico to make Arroz Con Gandules. If for some reason you can not find medium grained rice, the next best substitute is to use long grain rice. Short grain rice is the worst choice because the final dish will just be too sticky.
- Don’t Over Stir: You can not stir this Puerto Rican rice over and over again, otherwise you will wind up with mushy rice and without a crispy pegao on the bottom. I recommend only stirring it when you add the rice and then once again midway through cooking.
- Tight Fitting Lid: Make sure your pot or caldero has a tight fitting lid to ensure your rice gets the proper texture. If you don’t have one, make one with foil.
How To Serve Arroz con Gandules
Traditionally, this rice is made to be served with pernil. However, if you are Puerto Rican, you know that just like rice and beans, we serve arroz con gandules with everything!
- Beef Stew: A bowl of carne guisada is sure to warm you up!
- Chicken: The rich and flavorful achiote chicken pairs perfectly with this Puerto Rican rice recipe.
- Pork: How about a chuleta frita, Puerto Rican fried pork chop, for your new favorite dinner pairing!
- Macaroni Salad: Every Puerto Rican knows that it’s not the holidays without ensalada de doditos or ensalada de coditos con jamon!
- Plantains: Any way you want to enjoy them, as pasteles, platanos maduros, or as crispy fried tostones!
Store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
To reheat, just add the rice to a microwave safe bowl and pour in 2 teaspoons of water and stir. This will keep it from drying out. Set the microwave to 1 minute, stirring as needed.
To freeze, transfer cooled arroz con gandules to an airtight freezer safe container. Freeze for up to 3 months. For best results, transfer to the fridge to thaw before reheating.
Arroz Con Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice and Pigeon Peas)
- 4 slices bacon or ham, optional
- 2 tablespoons oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, or achiote oil
- 1 cup canned gandules, or frozen, drained from the water
- ¾ cup tomato sauce
- ½ cup green olives
- ¼ cup sofrito, thawed if using store bought frozen sofrito
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning
- ½ packet Sazon con culantro y achiote, or homemade sazon seasoning
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 ½ cups water
- 3 cups arroz Rico, medium grain white rice, rinsed
- Add the gandules, tomato sauce, green olives, sofrito, salt, adobo seasoning, sazon, ground black pepper and ground cumin. Stir to fully combine.
- Once the mixture becomes fragrant, pour in the water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and then add the rice. Stir until rice is submerged and pigeon peas are distributed evenly.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes. You can add your ham or bacon back in now if you want, or wait to add it in again before serving. Traditionally the rice would be covered with a banana or plantain leaf. However, a tight fitting pot lid will work just fine!
- About half way through cooking, remove the lid and stir by folding rice from the bottom up, but do not disturb the rice at the bottom of pan. (This is a very touchy subject – some Puerto Ricans insist that you don't stir the rice while cooking to get the best pegao, crispy rice bottom. However, I find stirring it once cooks everything more evenly. Whatever you do, make sure you only stir it once or the rice will become sticky/mushy.)
- After simmering for 25 minutes, remove the arroz con gandules from the heat and let it sit for an additional 10 minutes before serving. This is called letting the rice "steam". The rice is done once all the liquid is absorbed.
- After letting the rice rest for about a half hour, remove the lid. Fluff and stir the rice, then serve warm!
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