I’m not sure what’s so Cuban about Cuban rice, or arroz a la cubana as it’s known in Spain. This dish for one is white rice topped with tomato sauce and a fried egg. Sausages seem to be a popular accompaniment and depending on the region, there’s sometimes a fried banana too. Arroz a la cubana is also popular in the Phillipines but ground beef and diced vegetables are usually sauteed with the tomato sauce and a fried plantain is a normal accompaniment.
The closest Cuban dish I seem to be able to dig up is huevos a la habanera, or Havana-style eggs, which Wikipedia describes as “fried eggs served over white rice and fried plantains” while other recipes describe as baked eggs on a sofrito. Now I can sort of see the origins of Cuban rice if we look at a combination of these two descriptions.
Anyway, I was, of course, introduced to this dish by Blai, who had it at home and at school and even at some restaurants. And I felt like making it again (it had been at least a year) last week for dinner, mainly to use up some lovely chipolatas wrapped in bacon (leftover from Christmas, frozen for the new year) by having them on the side.
Instead of the usual white rice, we have garlic rice. In a pot, fry some chopped garlic gently in oil and just when it starts to colour, tip in some washed white rice; we used basmati. Add salt and a couple of bay leaves and stir to have the garlic and oil mixed thoroughly with the rice. Add enough water (the golden rule is 2 parts water to 1 part rice for cooking rice on the stove) and cover and let simmer. When the water’s mostly boiled off, turn off the heat and let the rice sit, still covered, to allow the rice to steam – this makes fluffing the rice much easier.
Our choice of tomato sauce is homemade, of course, and made with fresh tomatoes. We gently soften a chopped onion in olive oil before adding lots of chopped fresh tomatoes and cooking down the whole lot until thick. At this time of the year, a spoonful of sugar in the sauce never goes amiss. Salt and freshly ground pepper are musts. Some dried oregano is optional. If you have some leftover tomato sauce, say from when you were cooking pasta, this is the perfect way to use it up!
We left out the fried banana but it’s quite straightforward to do. Peel a banana and slice it in half lengthwise. Fry gently in oil until cooked through. And we just grilled our sausages or you could use any cooking method you like.
Finally, the crowning glory (at least to me), the fried egg. (Mine looks a bit rubbish this time since I was testing out a new itsy-bitsy frying pan I bought in Barcelona.) I believe the liquid yolk is important as it’ll flow over the rice and tomato sauce and it’s just delicious to put it plainly.
Now that all the parts have been assembled, it’s time to plate it all. I like my components relatively separate so that I can control the proportions of each bit on my spoon – I’m a little weird like that. Blai likes to mix up the whole lot so it becomes quite the amalgam of rice, sauce and egg. It’s all personal preference though so don’t take this as some kind of gospel!