Arroz con Gandules (Rice and Pigeon Peas)

Arroz con Gandules (Rice & Pigeon Peas) | - @thenoshery
We arrived in Florida on Friday night to spend Christmas with OB’s family.  While having lunch, there was mention that there may not be arroz con gandules for Christmas Eve dinner. A resounding exclamation of “WHAT!” came out of OB’s and my mouth. This cannot be permitted! You must understand that Christmas isn’t Christmas without arroz con gandules. A Puerto Rican Christmas Eve dinner requires three things arroz con gandules, pernil and pasteles. It’s not Christmas without this trinity.

Arroz con Gandules (Rice & Pigeon Peas) | - @thenoshery
If there is anything, we Puerto Ricans know it’s rice.  Growing up I think I ate it with almost every meal.  It wasn’t always the same rice, sometimes it was white, yellow or orange.  Sometimes it had chicken, beef, pork or sausage.  Sometimes it had beans over it and an over-medium egg with some fried sweet plantains on the side.  Mmmmmm, I am makeing myself hungry again.  In PR, there are countless ways to make rice but, this is my favorite hands down.

Arroz con Gandules (Rice & Pigeon Peas) | - @thenoshery
There are a few things that are essential to making a great pot of arroz con gandules.

Tips for Making Arroz con Gandules

Rinsing Rice

When I was a kid watching my mother make dinner she would always rinse the rice. When I got older I thought that this step was more of a learned habit then a necessary step. But, I quickly realized that this is a very necessary step. Rice straight out of the bag is coated in excess starch and that added starch will make your rice sticky if not rinsed. Arroz con gandules is not meant to be sticky, it should be light and fluffy.

Bacon Drippings

Pork is used frequently in one form or another in Puerto Rican cuisine. It can make an appearance as a main dish or as a flavor booster. In arroz con gandules it’s used as a flavor booster. Can you make arroz con gandules without bacon drippings? Yes, you can use olive oil or canola oil instead. But, bacon dripping add to an authentic flavor. However, be careful to use bacon that has not been cured so, no hickory or applewood smoked bacon. If you can find strips of skin-on pork belly like pictured above that is GREAT! If not you can also use salt pork. But, make sure you thoroughly rinse the salt pork under cold water to remove some of the salt. Finally, take your time and cook the bacon slowly at a medium temperature. This will produce the crispiest bacon and most drippings.


Sofrito is the heart and soul of Puerto Rican cuisine. It’s our version of mire pox or the holy trinity, except there are way more than just three ingredients. It is the base to many Puerto Rican dishes and leaving it out when it’s called for is not an option. I am a firm believer that homemade is superior to store bought, so I choose to make my own. But, that does not mean I never use store bought. Sometimes there isn’t time to make it and store bought is acceptable. However, let me clarify the difference between sofrito and recaito. In Puerto Rico sofrito, DOES NOT have tomatoes unlike Spain’s sofrito which is made with tomato. Also, sofrito and recaito are used interchangeably in Puerto Rico. That being said if you are going to buy sofrito what you want is recaito. I know confusing, sorry. The best way to remember is with a little rhyme “green go and red no.”

Rice Grain

Puerto Rican rice is made with medium grain rice…the end. The problem is that in the states medium grain rice can be hard to find. But, thanks to the power of the internet you can have a bag delivered to your door. Which, is what I did when I lived in Tulsa. Why do we use medium grain rice? It’s all about the texture. Short grain rice produced a rice that is too sticky and long grain makes very loose rice. We like our rice somewhere in between.

Arroz con Gandules (Rice & Pigeon Peas) | - @thenoshery

Toasting Rice

Toasting the rice in drippings or oil helps to keep the rice loose and fluffy. Do not over stir the rice when toasting. You want to allow it time to toast and create a thin barrier from the liquid which helps towards optimal fluffiness. You want to toast it until it’s just beginning to brown.


Also, if you want the coveted “pegao”, which is the crusty toasted rice at the bottom of the pot, you have to make the rice in a caldero.  After the last stir of the rice while toasting and before adding the liquid add a little more oil and let the rice toast until it starts to stick to the bottom. Then add the liquid and cook as instructed cooking for 10 minutes longer allowing the rice to get crispy on the bottom.  Keep an eye on it! You want it to toast not burn.  Making pegao is an art not everyone get it right on the first time.

Liquid Amount

The standard ratio of rice to water is 1 to 2. So, for every 1 cup of rice you use two cups of water. But, when it comes to arroz con gandules I have found that that ratio isn’t quite right. The issue is that the added ingredients such as tomato sauce, sofrito and gandules and rinsing of rice equals to added liquid.  I have found the ratio of 1 1/4 cups of water per cup of rice works better. This is something that my grandmother and mother-in-law taught me and it works for me every time.

Tight Seal

A tight seal when steaming the rice is essential! Back in the day a plantain tree leaf would be laid over the rice and covered to help create a tight seal. Now-a-days we use foil. Not having a tight seal allows heat and water to seep which could result in under cooked rice.

Arroz con Gandules (Rice & Pigeon Peas) | - @thenoshery
Arroz con gandules is not strictly for Christmas it’s just a must have during Christmas! It is the most loved rice, very tender and full of flavor and I love the pigeon peas because they kind of pop in your mouth.  This is really great and believe it or not it makes great leftovers.  It doesn’t get hard and brittle like most left over rice. It stays soft and re-heats very well.  Make a big pot because your going to want more later. My favorite way to have arroz con gandules leftovers is topped with a runny egg! NOM!

Arroz con Gandules (Rice and Pigeon Peas)
Serves: 6 - 8
  • 4 cups medium grain rice, rinsed
  • 4 strips pork belly or uncured thick cut bacon
  • ½ cup Sofrito
  • 1 15 oz can Gandules (Pigeon Peas), drained
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 8 Spanish olives, halved
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 banana leaf (optional)*

  • Equipment & Special Ingreidants Needed

  • Caldero
  • Sofrito (Recaito)
  • Medium Grain Rice
  1. Heat a large pot or caldero on medium heat, slowly cook the pork belly until crispy, remove bacon from pot and set aside leaving the drippings.

  2. Add sofrito to the drippings, cook about 3-5 minutes. Add rice to the pot to toast the rice, about 5 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Stirring occasionally. Add tomato sauce, capers, olive and pigeon peas. Gently stir until well combined.

  3. Add water, bring it to a boil on high until water begins to evaporate, place banana leaf or foil over the rice, cover and simmer on low for 35 minutes.

  4. Add crispy bacon and fluff with a fork. Serve
*It is important not to stir rice more then once otherwise it will come out very sticky.

*The banana leaf it optional, it give the rice a nice flavor. I purchase my banana leaves at my local Asian market.



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  1. says

    So I am a normal American girl from the midwest who married into a from Puerto Rico Puerto Rican family and I am told that my Arroz Con Gandules is to die for. Needless to say it isn’t my recipe but rather The Noshery’s but they don’t need to know that 😉

  2. jada says

    I always burn my rice , I think its because I dont know how much water should evaporate out when cooking on high . Could you please tell me how much water should evaporate ?? Thank you :)

    • Jenny says

      This tip comes from a conversation my mother (God rest her soul) gave to someone she was teaching to make rice ( I was 7 years old and listening in on the tutorial): The water should be a fingertip level (2 1/2 in.) above the rice. Doesn’t matter whether it is two cups of rice or 10, perfect rice all the time.

  3. Tammy T. says

    I made this last night for my Víspera de Reyes in NC and it is absolutely delicious. Thank you for this wonderful recipe!! *I put less water in the rice because I like my rice a bit more loose, just 3 cups instead of 4, but still, delicious.

  4. Arin says

    Did your family ever make this rice, but with chicken pieces? My PR in-laws make the rice with cut up pieces of chicken and then have a separate pot of beans which they ladle over top. They use wax paper instead of banana leaves. I’ve tried countless times to make this so I can continue the tradition, but my rice never turns out. Any thoughts?

  5. Tanya says

    Thank you so much for your amazing recipes , I have always been a pretty good cook but your recipes always makes my husband and his family feel like they are back home in PR which makes me feel like i’m truly a part of his wonderful latin culture.

  6. Pia says

    Could this work with a long grain brown rice?

    I Love making my own condiments too! Count me IN for a “Sofrito Power” tee :)

  7. Angela Crespo says

    I can’t wait to make this. This year I am having family and friends over for a Pre-Christmas dinner and I’ve been asked to make Arroz this year. The caveat is that my mother (Native PR) used to be the one that makes the rice but she moved to South Carolina and won’t be here this holiday. I’ve been trying to devise a way to have her ship me some cooked rice, but she’s not buying into that idea. Why not I say?!? Anyway, it’s up to me to keep the tradition. So, I hope this recipe makes me look good!
    P.S. I do have some of her homeade sofrito left in my freezer! That’s a plus! MMMM. Que rico!

  8. Bill says

    @Jari: Yes I know a lot of Puerto Ricans that use green plantains in their Arroz con Gandules. I don’t know if this is a custom from southern Puerto Rico (Salinas/Ponce area). You have to use a fine mesh grater (un guayo) and grate a green plantain until it is mushy. Season the grated plaintain with salt, adobo, or sazon, and then spoon it into the water with the rice. This gives it a great flavor, almost like pasteles.

  9. Jari says

    I *will* make this. I think I remember my mom adding some green plantain shreds to it. Have you tried it this way? I kind of remember it makes it mushy, but I wonder how much.

  10. Jessica says

    Can you make this in a rice cooker? If so, would I need to make some adjustments? Time, ingredients, etc…I am known as a “rice-burner”.


  1. […] I was generally happy with the results but I wasn’t doing back flips.  I did think that the rice came out a little on the wet side and I made the mistake of adding some canned oysters that I had, BIG mistake.  I was able to pick them out afterwards so it wasn’t so bad but I wouldn’t do it again.   Now don’t get me wrong it tasted good (after I picked out the oysters) and I would make it again, I just wasn’t doing somersaults over it.   I think my issue was that I had never had a paella before and I was expecting it to be really different, I don’t know why, but it turned out to taste like something I had before, no “wow” factor.  I like my Arroz con Gandules better.  […]

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