easy · side dish · starch

Chamorro Red Rice

FYI: I’m in the middle of updating this recipe. I’ve had too many disasters, so consider this recipe problematic prone for now. Will post again as soon as I can get it right and duplicate good results reliably. Thanks!


This dish relies on annatto seeds, not tomato, for its distinctive orange-redness and smoky, earthy flavor. It’s a classic accompaniment to Chamorro-style barbecue at fiestas. Everyone adds their own touch to this dish: bacon, hot peppers, peas, etc.


  • 1 T annatto seeds
  • approx. 2 to 2 1/2 c water
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 c uncooked rice
  • 1 t sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 t black pepper, or to taste
  • 1/2 t garlic powder, or to taste
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper or Tabasco, or to taste


Soak annatto seeds in water. Set aside for 90 minutes. Do NOT oversoak. Wearing a disposable plastic (not latex) glove, lightly rub seeds to release additional color and flavor into the water. Do NOT overdo the rubbing; keep it gentle and brief. Water should look muddy reddish-orange. Discard seeds. Set aside red-orange water.

Finely chop onion. Heat oil in frying pan over medium-low heat. Saute onions till translucent but not browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Rinse rice and drain. Add rice to pot. Using the red-orange water, add the same amount of water you would normally add to make 2 c rice, adding more plain water if necessary. (The total water added will probably be between 2 c to 2 1/2 c, depending on the rice.)

Add onion mixture. Add salt, black pepper, garlic powder (opt), and cayenne pepper (opt). Stir to mix. Cover pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer till water has evaporated and little holes or pockets appear on the surface of the rice, usually about 4 to 6 minutes. Turn off heat. Remove from burner and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Remove cover. Using chopsticks, gently fluff up and carefully fold the rice to evenly distribute the onions and seasonings.

4 servings


  • Annatto seeds, also known as achiote seeds, are readily found in Mexican/Latin and Asian (especially Pilipino) markets.
  • Oversoaking and/or rubbing the seeds too aggressively will result in an extremely bitter rice.
  • Salt and spices can be varied up. Add whatever you want.
  • Garlic powder can be replaced by two or so cloves, smashed, cooked in the olive oil till it is lightly browned, and then removed. Then use the resulting garlic-infused oil to saute the onions and proceed as directed.
  • Most recipes call for medium-grained rice. I like using long-grain. Or you could mix medium- and long-grain for textural variety.
  • For a meaty (and definitely non-vegan) variation, fry up two strips of bacon. Remove the bacon, finely chop, and set aside. Use the bacon grease to saute the onions, adding olive oil if needed. After rice is done cooking, gently fold in bacon bits. (As much as I can appreciate this effect, for reasons related to health, taste, and overall meal composition and balance, I generally prefer to keep meat additions to a minimum.)
  • Annatto seeds, which are used to dye the red part of chedder cheese, among other foods, stain counters and stain hands (hence the need for the disposable glove). Of course, you can always cook this recipe without the glove, but just know you’ll be caught red-handed if you do. 😉 To get rid of counter stains, apply an enzymatic cleaner like Bac-0ut’s all-purpose cleaner, wet, and scrub with a scour pad.



One thought on “Chamorro Red Rice

  1. I made red rice with achiote powder, seems like i used a bit too much. advice for toning it down? 🙂

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