Arroz al Horno Valenciano (Spanish Baked Rice) Recipe
Why It Works
- Fatty cuts of pork like ribs and belly remain tender and juicy throughout cooking.
- Browning the meats and potatoes before assembling the rice for baking deepens flavor.
- Adding a measured amount of salt to the stock ensures the finished rice dish is properly seasoned throughout.
Paella is the word on everyone’s lips when Spanish rice is the topic. But I’d argue that as deserving as paella is of its international fame, its sibling—arroz al horno—is the dish home cooks should devote more of their attention to. Born in Valencia, the rice-growing province that created paella, arroz al horno shares many of the great qualities of paella with a fraction of the challenges. Like paella, arroz al horno boasts deeply flavorful short-grain rice cooked in a single vessel with a customizable array of proteins, legumes, and vegetables. But unlike paella, arroz al horno does not need to be carefully tended over a live fire (or, if you’re adapting it for the home kitchen, a stovetop burner), with all the associated risk of scorching and uneven cooking that comes with it.
Recipes for arroz al horno valenciano (that is, baked rice in the style of Valencia) vary quite a bit. Some of the simplest call for little more than rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and a few seasonings. When prepared this way, arroz al horno is an excellent side dish to accompany meats and vegetables. Other recipes, though, bulk up the ingredient list to also include meats like blood sausage and various cuts of pork, as well as slices of fried potatoes and even dried fruits like currants. Made this way, it’s a filling one-pot meal that is far easier to throw together than its impressive appearance would suggest.
In both the simple and fully-loaded versions, water, or, better yet, a meat broth is used to cook the rice (or, if you’re cooking chickpeas from dried, the flavorful bean-cooking liquid). And in both cases, a whole head of garlic that Valencians cutely call the “partridge” is plopped on right in the center to roast as the rice bakes below it.
Traditionally, arroz al horno is cooked and served in shallow earthenware cazuelas, though I have found a roughly 3.5-quart sautè pan or something similar also works very well. This type of vessel is another thing that differentiates arroz al horno from paella. In the case of paella, the signature pan is both very thin (for rapid shifts in heat as needed) and very shallow, producing a relatively slim bed of rice full of crispy bits thanks to the soccarrat that forms on the bottom. Arroz al horno, on the other hand, is cooked in a dish that allows a slightly deeper bed of rice that is more tender throughout, since most of the cooking happens in the oven and not over direct heat, and no soccarrat is formed.
The recipe here is of the more lavish variety, but what matters more here than the specific ingredients is the basic method, which, once understood, can be adapted to whichever ingredients you prefer. Go for a fully vegetarian approach with just chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic, and water (or bean-cooking liquid), or a meaty style of your choice using various sausages, meatballs, and cuts of pork, chicken, rabbit, or—dare I say without incurring a purist’s wrath—seafood.
Making arroz al horno, in the broadest sense, goes something like this:
- Sear any ingredients you want to brown first, like meats and potato slices, to develop color and flavor.
- Add rice and spices/seasonings and toast in the oil. Toasting the rice reduces the thickening power of surface staches, ensuring the finished baked rice has tender, separate grains, not gummy ones. Adding spices like smoked paprika and saffron at this point allows them to infuse their fat-soluble flavors into the oil before any water or stock is added.
- Add liquid—preferably a high-quality homemade stock, as its flavor comes through fully here, or the bean-cooking liquid (if you’re not using canned beans)—and bring to a simmer.
- While you’re waiting for the liquid to come to a simmer, layer on the toppings, such as pieces of tomato, the fried potato slices, blood (or other) sausages, chickpeas, etc. Don’t forget to pop that head of garlic right in the center.
- Bake the rice until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, then serve.
This is very much a recipe that, once you try it a couple times, can become a reliable weeknight staple open to improvisation, yet impressive enough to also be a great, low-effort option for entertaining a small group.