Infused with saffron, this simple Spanish Rice Recipe is golden, fragrant, and flavorful, and ready in under 30 minutes. Pair this beautiful saffron rice with all your favorite Spanish, Mexican, and Middle Eastern meals. Vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free.
Easy Spanish Rice Recipe
Delicious pilaf-style Spanish rice made with long-grain white rice and flavored with saffron, onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Striking yellow in color, this beautiful Spanish rice recipe is a simplified version of Paella, one of Spain’s best-known dishes.
Is this the same as Mexican rice?
A lot of recipes use the terms Mexican rice and Spanish rice interchangeably – especially here in the US where any long-grain rice cooked with tomatoes, cumin, onions, and chili powder are often labeled “Spanish Rice”. The two, while very similar, have two primary differences (depending on who you ask, of course).
- Mexican rice is reddish-orange while Spanish rice is usually yellow color
- Spanish rice typically contains saffron (hence saffron rice) while Mexican rice typically contains ground cumin and (often) chili powder and tomato sauce
Whatever you decide to call this rice recipe, it always makes a beautiful addition to any dining table. Best enjoyed with meats and stews or heavy curries, it’s rare to find this savory Spanish saffron rice served among tex-mex classics like burritos, enchiladas, or tacos.
Ingredients in Spanish Rice
- Good-quality saffron
- Boiling water
- Olive oil
- Bell pepper
- Garlic cloves
- Ground coriander
- Long-grain white rice
- Water (or chicken broth or chicken stock)
What type of rice should I use?
For this recipe, grain length does make a difference. Pick long-grain rice – standard long-grain rice, white basmati rice, or jasmine rice will all work.
Can I use brown rice to make this recipe?
I have not tried making this recipe using brown rice so I can’t speak for the final result. That said, expect to increase the total cook time by approximately 10-15 minutes and increase the total cooking liquid to 3.5 cups water (or other cooking liquid) for 2 cups of rice.
RELATED: Instant Pot Brown Rice Recipe
What is Saffron?
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower, crocus sativus – also known as the “saffron crocus”. Thought to have originated in Greece, most of the world’s saffron is grown in Iran, Greece, Morocco, and India. The delicate crimson-colored stigma and styles, called threads, are collected from the crocus sativus, dried and used as a seasoning and natural food coloring.
Cultivating saffron is incredibly difficult – harvested entirely by hand, each flower only produces three threads (stigmas) of saffron, and the flower blooms for only one week each year. Saffron is well known as the world’s most expensive spice.
How do you know if you have good-quality saffron? Saffron should smell a bit like sweet hay. It should also be a collection of all red stigmas, not a mixture of red stigmas and yellow stamens.
But what does it taste like? Describing saffron is extremely complicated. There’s no one word, description, or way to describe it. It’s subtle and fragrant, perhaps somewhat bitter, sweet, and grass-like.
How to Make Spanish Rice (Saffron Rice)
1. Transfer your rice to a large bowl and wash thoroughly under running water. Drain the rice in a fine-mesh strainer and repeat until the water runs nearly clear. Drain thoroughly.
2. Transfer your saffron threads to a small bowl and cover with 1/4 cup hot water. Set aside to allow the saffron to soak for at least 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the chopped white or yellow onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add the red bell pepper and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Finally, add the minced garlic, salt, and ground coriander. Cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.
4. Transfer your washed (and thoroughly drained) rice to the pot. Mix to combine. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté for 2-3 minutes, or until rice is golden and toasted. If the rice starts to burn, reduce heat as needed.
5. Pour the saffron threads and their soaking liquid over the top of the rice. Stir in 3 cups of water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth to the pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Mix thoroughly to combine then immediately reduce heat to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
6. Allow the rice to cook undisturbed for 18-20 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow the cooked rice to steam (still covered) for an additional 10 minutes.
7. Gently fluff with a fork and season with additional salt if needed.
Can I cook this using my Instant Pot or pressure cooker?
Start by sautéeing the onions, bell pepper, and garlic in olive or vegetable oil in the bowl of your Instant Pot on SAUTE mode. Once softened, add a teaspoon salt, coriander, and the washed rice. Cook until golden. Cancel sauté mode and add the steeped saffron and water (or broth).
- When using the Instant Pot, use a rice to water ratio of 1:1. So, if this recipe calls for 2 cups of rice, add 2 cups of cooking liquid.
Secure the lid on top of your Instant Pot and turn the steam valve to the sealing position. Cook the rice on manual high pressure for 3 minutes. After the timer is complete, natural release for 10 minutes before switching to quick release (turn venting knob to venting position). Carefully remove the lid and fluff with a fork.
RELATED: How to Cook Perfect Instant Pot Rice
What to Serve With Saffron Rice Pilaf?
Saffron rice pairs well with a variety of different cuisines including Spanish, Middle Eastern, Indian, and even American BBQ (although I expect not everyone will agree with me on this one).
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Middle Eastern Curried Lamb Meatballs
- Tabbouleh (Tabouli Salad Recipe)
- Tandoori Chicken Gyros with Curried Yogurt Sauce
- Grilled fish and shrimp
- Sauce and dip – yogurt, hummus, eggplant dip
- Baked Harissa Chicken Recipe
It is also common to serve this Spanish yellow rice topped with dried fruits like raisins or dried cranberries, pine nuts, and caramelized onions.
More Rice Recipes,
If you try making this Easy Spanish Rice Recipe (Saffron Rice Recipe), please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
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Spanish Rice Recipe (Saffron Rice)
- 1/4 tsp good-quality saffron threads
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion - minced
- 1 red bell pepper - stem removed, seeded, and minced
- 3 cloves garlic - minced
- 1 tsp salt - plus more to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 2 cups long-grain white rice - (I used basmati)
- 3 cups water - (or vegetable broth, chicken stock (non-vegetarian))
- Start by washing your rice. Transfer your rice to a large bowl. With the water running, gently swish the rice in a circular motion until the bowl is filled with water. Drain the rice using a fine-mesh strainer or colander (with tiny holes) and repeat until the water runs almost clear. Drain thoroughly.
- Transfer your saffron threads to a small bowl and cover with 1/4 cup hot water. Allow the saffron to soak for at least 5 minutes.
- As the saffron is soaking, heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add the red bell pepper and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring as needed. Finally, add the minced garlic, salt, and coriander. Cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.
- Add the washed and thoroughly drained rice to your pot. Mix thoroughly to combine. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté for 2-3 minutes, or until rice is golden and toasted.
- Pour the saffron threads and their soaking liquid over the top of the rice. Add 3 cups of water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth to the pot. Bring to a boil and mix thoroughly to combine. Reduce heat to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
- Allow the rice to cook for 18-20 minutes. Remove from heat, but still covered, allow the rice to steam for an additional 10 minutes.
- Gently fluff with a fork and season with additional salt if needed.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)