Arroz Con Coco (Colombian Coconut Rice) Recipe

Aromatic, lightly sweet coconut rice pilaf made from toasting rice grains in rendered coconut oil and browned coconut solids.

A dish of arroz con coco garnish with two lemon wedges.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Why It Works

  • Canned coconut milk is slowly boiled down to remove water content, leaving behind coconut oil and solids which are toasted to a deep, golden crunchy brown.
  • Toasting the rice in the coconut oil gives it a bit of extra nuttiness, while browned coconut solids give off plenty of the pigment, turning the rice a rich coffee color as it cooks on the stovetop.
  • Choose a coconut milk without stabilizers like xanthan gum or crystalline cellulose to make it easier for the solids to separate properly from the fat.

My wife's travel schedule is not gentle. I'm not sure whether it's me, Hambone, or Yuba that pushes her over the edge, causing her to jet off to impromptu cryptography conferences in Amalfi or to deliver emergency homomorphic encryption seminars in Boston. Come to think of it, I'm not even really sure what she does that makes her services so invaluable to such a wide slice of the population. She's told me a few times, but I can never quite remember whether cryptography has to do with computers and math, or with tombs. The latter would be far cooler.

One thing's for sure: I get to spend a lot of time at home alone with the dogs, which leaves me simultaneously overjoyed at my good fortune and bitter at the unfairness of it all. (I'm sure parents can understand the feeling). How do I get my revenge? By cooking all of my wife's favorite Colombian foods while she's gone and writing about them.

Honey, this one's for you.

The first time I had arroz con coco—the savory-sweet, nutty brown coconut rice common to the coast of Colombia—was on a vacation to Cartagena before we were even engaged. We sat on the beach, picking at fresh fish slashed and deep fried to a crisp golden brown served with the crunchy fried green plantains known there as patacones, wedges of aromatic orange limes, and a big pile of coconut rice.

It was the rice that stuck most in my mind. Deep brown with crunchy flecks of crisp coconut meat, it's got a definite coconut aroma, but not as in-your-face as, say, a Thai-style coconut rice or some of the coconut-scented rices I've had in other Central and South American countries.

At its core, arroz con coco is a pilaf—rice grains toasted in oil before being steamed, but in this case the oil comes directly from coconut milk. You start by dumping a can of coconut milk in a pot, and slowly boiling it off until all of the water content is removed, the coconut oil breaks out, and the solids begin to brown. From there, it's a slow process of stirring and toasting until they are a deep, crunchy golden brown before finally adding sugar, salt, and rice.

Toasting the rice gives it a bit of extra nuttiness, though as the rice steams, the coconut solids give off plenty of the pigment, turning the rice a coffee brown color as it cooks on the stovetop. Your kitchen should smell awesome while this is happening.

I tend to like mine a little sweeter than most recipes out there call for, and when I have it on hand, I'll use panella, a raw sugar from Colombia sold in blocks with a similar flavor to turbinado or demerara (you can use regular sugar or brown sugar, if you'd like).

Close-up of ingredient label from canned coconut milk.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

If you see stabilizers like crystalline cellulose or xanthan gum, you'll have a hard time getting your solids to separate properly from your fat, making the whole thing difficult to brown. If that's all you can find, you can coax it into breaking sooner by adding a bit of vegetable oil to the pan once the coconut milk is reduced down to a few tablespoons.

Hurry home dear, before I finish all this myself.

June 2012

Recipe Facts

Active: 20 mins
Total: 45 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (see notes)

  • 2 cups uncooked long or medium grain rice

  • 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)

  • 3 cups water

Directions

  1. Heat coconut milk in a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat until simmering. Reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until reduced to a couple of tablespoons (see notes). Continue to cook, stirring and scraping constantly until coconut oil breaks out and coconut solids cook down to a deep, dark brown, about 20 minutes total.

    Composite showing the stages of slow boiling coconut milk to remove water content and brown coconut solids

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

  2. Add rice, sugar (more or less to taste), and salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly until rice grains begin to turn translucent and golden, about 2 minutes. Add raisins (if using) and stir to combine.

    Toasting rice in coconut oil and browned coconut solids in a saucepan.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

  3. Add water and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce to lowest possible setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork, and serve.

Notes

Look for coconut milk with no stabilizers such as crystalline cellulose or xanthan gum. If you can't find them, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pot in step 1 once the coconut milk has reduced down to a few tablespoons and starts spluttering.

Special Equipment

2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
210 Calories
14g Fat
21g Carbs
3g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 210
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 18%
Saturated Fat 12g 60%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 328mg 14%
Total Carbohydrate 21g 8%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 3g
Vitamin C 1mg 3%
Calcium 20mg 2%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 158mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)