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Imperial Rice

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This Imperial rice recipe is the special of the day. Imperial rice is a Cuban chicken and rice dish in casserole form and it has a surprising secret ingredient. It makes a perfect dish to serve during family dinners, holiday meals, or when you need to make food for leftovers. It provides the best blend of Cuban restaurant cuisine with the comforting taste of home cooking.

Imperial rice in a baking dish.

Chicken and rice is a classic combination that never gets old. Every cuisine has its own version of this harmonious fusion of flavors. Take, for instance, our skillet chicken and rice bake. It is decidedly American comfort food.

Today we are making a Cuban version of chicken with yellow rice. Imperial rice is also known as Arroz Imperial and it is made in a casserole dish with alternating layers, similar to how lasagna gets constructed. We adapted this recipe from The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook, written by restaurant owners based out of Miami.

We have several tips and suggestions to add your own spin to this classic Cuban recipe.

Ingredients used to make Imperial rice.

The Ingredients:

Since Imperial rice is a layered casserole dish, I will break the ingredients down by the layers. 

The Chicken Layer:

  • Onion. One yellow or white onion. 
  • Bell pepper. We used green bell pepper but red or yellow bell pepper will work as well.
  • Garlic.
  • White wine. The alcohol in the wine will get cooked off but if you don’t want to use any wine then substitute it with some chicken broth. 
  • Crushed tomatoes.
  • Bay leaf.
  • Shredded chicken. You can purchase a rotisserie chicken or use some leftover grilled chicken breasts. If you have an Instant Pot, you can cook some frozen chicken breasts in the Instant Pot
  • Green peas. The peas are an extra addition we made to give the Imperial Rice an extra pop of color.

The Rice Layer:

  • Chicken broth. Cooking the rice with chicken broth will give the rice some extra flavor. 
  • Rice. We used uncooked, long-grain rice.
  • Bijol or Cumin. Bijol is the traditional spice used in Cuba that gives the rice its yellow color but no flavor. Cumin makes a great substitute and gives the rice some yellow color and a bit more flavor. If you want the rice more yellow, you can use a dash of turmeric.
  • Salt and pepper.
Four photos showing how to make Imperial rice.

You Will Also Need:

  • Mayonnaise. While mayonnaise may sound like a strange ingredient, it is authentic to an Arroz Imperial recipe. 
  • Cheese. Any type of cheese will work. We used a mixture of Muenster and Mozzarella. The cheese was not included in the original recipe from the Miami restaurant but you can’t go wrong with the cheese.
  • Pimientos. The pimientos are strictly for garnish and do not add anything to the flavor of this Imperial rice recipe. Skip them if you don’t have them on hand.
Six photos showing how to make Imperial rice.

How to Make Imperial Rice:

Here is a quick overview of the process for this Imperial rice recipe. Make sure you read the tips for success below and scroll down to the recipe card for all the details.

  1. Cook the chicken mixture in a skillet and set it aside. 
  2. Make the rice in a saucepan and set it aside. 
  3. Grease a 13×9 casserole dish and spread 1/3 of the rice into the dish. 
  4. Cover the rice with a layer of mayonnaise then top it with a bit of cheese and some of the chicken mixture. 
  5. Repeat the layers with more rice, mayonnaise, cheese, and chicken. 
  6. Top it off with a final layer of rice, mayonnaise, and cheese. 
  7. Bake until the edges are bubbly. 
Six photos showing how to make an Imperial rice recipe.

Tips for Success:

Make it fun. Don’t worry if you get the layers out of order or miss a step. This is a pretty versatile recipe.

Substitute the mayonnaise. If you don’t like mayonnaise, substitute with some garlic butter sauce or white garlic sauce. Actually, any kind of fat-based sauce will work. It is the fat in the mayonnaise that makes this Imperial rice recipe authentic and flavorful. The fat melts down into the rice and gives it a creamy, rich flavor.

Add some spice. There isn’t a lot of spice and heat to a traditional Imperial rice recipe. If you are partial to spicy foods then we recommend adding a chipotle pepper and a few tablespoons of adobo sauce to the chicken mixture. You could also make our quick chipotle aioli and use that instead of the regular mayonnaise. 

Substitute the Bijol. As mentioned above, I am not impressed with the flavor in Bijol. The good news is that Bijol isn’t used as much for flavor as it is used for color. It is kind of like a poor mans saffron except saffron is so much better. You can certainly use a pinch of saffron but we liked the flavor and color that cumin adds. 

Add extras. Some recipes for Imperial rice will include ham. If you have some leftover ham, dice it up and add it with the chicken. Other additions could include sausage, olives, or a chipotle pepper as mentioned above. 

Imperial rice on a serving plate.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I use instant rice?

Yes, if you use instant rice just follow the instructions on the package and use chicken broth in place of the water. Add the same amount of Bijol or cumin that our recipe calls for. 

How long do leftovers last?

Store leftovers in the fridge for 3 days or freeze them for up to 6 months. 

Helpful Tools:

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Some More Recipes We Are Sure You Will Love:

Our recipe for pork fried rice is an easy meal that takes advantage of leftover pork. You can turn a small amount of pork that may only be enough for one person into a large dinner that will feed a family.

This Instant Pot Spanish rice makes a fantastic side dish and the Instant Pot makes it easy and clears space on your stove for other items.

Our chicken tortilla chip casserole makes use of leftover chicken and it makes a large portion. It is great for potlucks and it is easy to make.

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Imperial rice on a serving plate.

Imperial Rice Recipe

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Imperial rice is a Cuban recipe for chicken and rice. It gets layered in a baking dish similar to lasagna. Mayonnaise is an unusual but authentic ingredient for this recipe. The mayonnaise bakes into the rice layer and gives it a rich flavor. The mayonnaise is usually layered on even thicker than we did in this recipe but we opted for extra cheese instead.

We simplified this recipe by using pre-cooked chicken. You can purchase a rotisserie chicken or bake and shred some chicken before you get started.

Ingredients

Make the chicken mixture:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes (1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken meat (see notes)
  • 1 cup frozen green peas

Cook the rice:

  • 4-3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 2-1/2 cups long-grain white rice (uncooked)
  • 2 teaspoons bijol (or substitute with cumin)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

For constructing the layers:

  • 2/3 to 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2-1/2 cups shredded Muenster or Mozzarella cheese

Garnish:

  • pimientos

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

The Chicken Mixture

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper. Sauté for 4 to 6 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent.  Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. 
  2. Add the wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the wine is reduced by half. Scrape the bottom of the saucepan to remove any cooked on onion bits. 
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf and shredded chicken. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the peas. Taste, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

The Yellow Rice

  1. In a separate pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, bijol (or cumin), salt and pepper. Bring to a boil again then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 18 to 20 minutes. 

Assemble and Bake

  1. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Spread 1/3 of the rice mixture into the bottom of the dish. Spread 3 to 4 heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise over the rice. Sprinkle a layer of cheese over the mayonnaise. Top with half of the chicken mixture. Spread 1/2 of the remaining rice over the chicken. Spread 3 more tablespoons of mayonnaise over the rice then sprinkle more cheese over that.
  2. Next, spread the rest of the chicken on top. Spread the rest of the rice over the chicken and top with 3 more tablespoons of mayonnaise. 
  3. Top with more shredded cheese and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges are brown and the cheese looks bubbly. 

Notes

  • You can use a little over half of a whole roasted chicken or three large chicken breasts cooked and shredded.
  • Traditional Cuban food is not spicy but if you like spicy food, add a chipotle pepper and a few tablespoons of adobo sauce to the chicken mixture. You could also make our quick chipotle aioli and use that instead of the regular mayonnaise.
  • Substitute the mayonnaise. If you don’t like mayonnaise, substitute with some garlic butter sauce or white garlic sauce.  
  • Add extras. Some recipes for Imperial rice will include ham. If you have some leftover ham, dice it up and add it with the chicken. Other additions could include sausage and olives.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 343Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 66mgSodium: 1312mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 20g

Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third-party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.

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Dahn Boquist

Dahn is a retired nurse, recipe creator, home cook, baker, and self-proclaimed foodie. She loves creating in the kitchen and cooking for family and friends. She lives in Washington State with her husband and dog. When she isn't cooking or baking, you can usually find her spending time with her grandson or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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Rich

Monday 15th of May 2023

Made an expanded tray version for Mother’s day. With three different cheese layers. Perfection. Just have to bake covered for longer.

Dahn Boquist

Tuesday 16th of May 2023

What a great idea, thanks for the comment.

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