Colombian Coconut Rice


When my husband and I were visiting our daughter a while back, she told us she was going to be vacationing in Colombia. My first reaction was, “Oh, Columbia in South Carolina?”

I should have known better. This is the kid who’s already been to Argentina, Hungary, Croatia, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Australia – 6 countries we hadn’t been to yet at that time.

Our immediate thoughts were of course of drug cartels and kidnappers, but she assured us that the old part of Cartagena, where she’d be staying, was safe.

Well, she went, and she came back alive. But not without first texting me a recipe while in Cartagena for coconut rice that she fell in love with there. And she sent me a coconut rice recipe that she found online.

The recipe is from Serious Eats, and it’s actually called Colombian Coconut Rice, although the author, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, claims that this rice is popular throughout a significant area in South America.

As Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats and James Beard award winner, he definitely knows his stuff. Full bio below.

He writes, “At its core, arroz con coco is a pilaf—rice grains toasted in oil before being steamed, but in this case the oil comes directly from coconut milk. You start by dumping a can of coconut milk in a pot, and slowly boiling it off until all of the water content is removed, the coconut oil breaks out, and the solids begin to brown. From there, it’s a slow process of stirring and toasting until they are a deep, crunchy golden brown before finally adding sugar, salt, and rice.”

The only issue is if the coconut milk used in the recipe has stabilizers like crystalline cellulose or xanthan gum, you’ll have a hard time getting your solids to separate properly from your fat, making the rice to brown.

So I set out to find coconut milk without stabilizers and preservatives. Not an easy task. Finally, I found coconut milk at Trader Joe’s, with only coconut milk and water as ingredients. After many stores and Amazon. Hallelujah!

Colombian Coconut Rice
printable recipe below

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (see note above)
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups water

Heat coconut milk in a 2 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat until simmering. Reduce to medium low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until reduced to a couple of tablespoons.

Continue to cook, stirring and scraping constantly until coconut oil breaks out and coconut solids cook down to a deep, dark brown, about 20 minutes total.

Add rice, sugar (more or less to taste), and salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly until rice grains begin to turn translucent and golden, about 2 minutes.

Add water and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce to lowest possible setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let rest 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork, and serve.

Coconut rice is delicious, not too sweet, and actually works well as a side dish to meats and vegetables. In Colombia, my daughter ate it for breakfast with eggs.

And, at this point, this daughter has only been to 4 countries we’ve not been to yet, since we finally visited New Zealand and Australia in fall of 2017.

We’re catching up!

Note: When the solids separate from the oil and begin to brown, they look like crumbs. But have no fear. Once the water is added and the rice cooks, they will dissolve.

J. Kenji López-Alt is the managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of the James Beard Award–nominated column The Food Lab, in which he unravels the science of home cooking. A restaurant-trained chef and former editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine, Kenji released his first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, in 2015, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of a James Beard Award, and The Food Lab was named Cookbook of the Year in 2015 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.



59 thoughts on “Colombian Coconut Rice

  1. I love all kinds of rice – not such a big coconut fan though! Funny, I have a post on hasselback potatoes that is Kenji’s recipe I have yet to post. It prompted me to buy his book – such a great reference – I highly recommend it :)

  2. This has got my name all over it! Have to hunt down the proper coconut milk. This sounds like the sort of leftovers that can be sneaked from the fridge when no one is looking!?! Hope you enjoyed your trip ‘down under’.

  3. This looks great — I will definitely try it. I have a co-worker from Colombia and will ask him about this. One thing I have learned from him previously is that his country’s name is written with an “o”. That may also help distinguishing it from the city in SC :-)

    • Right, but Emma was talking to us at the time, so I couldn’t tell the spelling, but like I wrote, I should have known better. She’s presently in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan. I would love your co-worker’s take on coconut rice. Emma made it seem like you could eat it three times a day. But, she’s a vegetarian…

      • He taught my about the correct spelling of the name of his country (and is now thanking me for propagating that knowledge, LOL). He says it is very common along the Caribbean coast of Colombia (the area around Cartagena). He really likes it, but has never prepared it himself. I’ll put it on my list of recipes to try, so you’ll probably see it on my blog some time.

    • Were you trying to let me know about all of the misspellings in my post!!!!! I’ve been laughing for about ten minutes now. Thank you Stefan!

  4. What a terrific looking dish! Never heard of it, but that’s pretty typical. :-) Really nice recipe — thanks. And Happy New Year!

  5. Common in Brazil too, but usually a much less involved recipe – often made with home-made extracted coconut milk – a labor of love, but you can always find it in street markets, extracted earlier in the day. you can smell the coconut from half a mile away… (well, almost)


  6. oh my. i boiled a can of trader joe’s coconut milk before, and thought the coconut milk would just get thicker. was so surprised when i got oil instead! good to know that it’s the lack of stabilizers at work, instead of tj’s coconut milk being wonky (; this rice sounds so flavorful, and i can imagine that it’d be tasty with so many things!

    • Oh good! I guess instead of racing it separates! The rice is good – subtle flavor and not too sweet, although I used the smallest amount of sugar!

  7. This is so different from my coconut lime rice – I can’t wait to try it! By the way, I made your fondant potatoes and they were fantastic. You will see them in a couple of months y blog as a side – and I put a link to you and gave you full credit! :)

  8. I have never heard of this but it looks delicious! Interesting technique. My daughter has resigned from her job and is leaving for Italy. After reading you post, I’m grateful it’s not Columbia!

  9. Love coconut rice… Your recipe sounds so delicious! We make this often but a little more Asian style with Jasmine rice, no sugar and ginger… Simply a delicious accompaniment to so many dishes. Hope you are having a super start to 2018 and can’t wait to see whats cooking in your kitchen. Take care

  10. Woah!! Coconut, brown sugar and rice put together would be a new flavor to my palate. I am surely gonna give this one a try. Sounds delish and wonderful write-up!

  11. Goodness gracious, this coconut rice is calling my name……hold up, I’m coming. LOL! It had to have been delicious with the coconut flavor and brown sugar. Just salivating thinking of it. Colombian eh?

  12. I love to cook with coconut milk. It makes any dish so much richer. I like using coconut milk in my vegetable stews or curries, and this rice recipe would be a perfect fit.

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