This blogpost was developed in partnership with Sedano’s and DiMe Media. All opinions expressed are my own.
When I think back to my childhood there's a few things that always stick out to me: my parents’ cooking, Noche Buena and shopping with my mom at Sedano’s to buy groceries for the holiday feast. It’s a not so well kept secret that my dad was the real cook at home. He was a chef at a hotel in Havana, Cuba and although she won't admit it, he’s the one that taught my mom how to cook. So all of my mother’s recipes are really my dad’s, but he never complained and always let her take all of the credit. That’s a great husband, if you ask me.
My mom would usually take me along to Sedano’s after school because it was on the way home from North Hialeah elementary. Looking back, I now realize how much I value the time I spent with my mom shopping and how much I learned about cooking from her. When my mom would take me to Sedano’s to prepare for Noche Buena, I’d get very excited to tag along to inspect what was on the menu for that year. Although the main Cuban Noche Buena staples always stayed the same, some side dishes and desserts would make special appearances. I always knew what ingredients to keep an eye out for so I could figure out the dessert. Valencia short grain rice, condensed milk, star anise and cinnamon sticks meant Cuban arroz con leche was on the horizon.
During the holidays and in particular, Noche Buena, my parents’ Cuban cooking always shined. The lechon, arroz blanco, frijoles negros and yuca drenched in mojo and platanitos maduros were all fan favorites, but my eyes were always on dessert. My dad’s flan and arroz con leche are things that I dream of even after all of these years. My dad’s arroz con leche owns a special place in my heart. To this day, my mom always makes sure to make me arroz con leche for the holidays. For me, it’s just not Christmas without a bowl of warm arroz con leche sprinkled with cinnamon. It’s a tradition that has endured throughout the years.
Papi’s Cuban Arroz Con Leche Recipe
- 1 14 oz package of Valencia rice (short grain)
- 10 cups of whole milk
- ½ tsp of salt
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 strips of lemon peel
- 2 whole star anise seeds
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- ¾ cup of sugar
- grated cinnamon for garnish (optional)
Rinse the rice in water to get rid of as much starch as possible. To wash, place the rice in a large saucepan, cover with water and swirl around. The water will get cloudy. Pour out the cloudy water, use a strainer to keep the rice from making a giant mess. Repeat until the water is clear.
In the same saucepan, over medium heat, mix the rinsed rice, 5 cups of whole milk, cinnamon stick, lemon peel, anise seeds and salt. Bring to a simmer while stirring constantly to avoid the milk from burning and spilling over.
Arroz con leche in the making, when it begins to look like this (milk has evaporated) add additional milk.
Reduce heat to low. Once the milk is mostly evaporated, add an additional 3 cups of milk and stir to incorporate. Cover saucepan, stirring occasionally to ensure that the bottom doesn’t burn. If the milk has evaporated, but the rice is still not tender add an additional 2 cups of milk. It may seem like a lot of milk, but this ensures that when the rice is done, the arroz con leche remains creamy and won’t clump together.
Stir in butter and condensed milk into the cooked rice. Remove cinnamon, star anise and lemon.
Cook uncovered over low heat, stirring frequently until liquid is mostly absorbed, the rice is completely tender and you begin to see the texture of the rice. At this time, add in the sugar and cook for another 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and spoon into individual serving dishes or eat it straight out of the pan, no one will judge you. Sprinkle with cinnamon and chill for about an hour before serving. The leftover arroz con leche will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days or until you eat it all, whichever comes first. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I have over the years during our Noche Buena festivities.