Most home cooks in the U.S. strive to make perfect, fluffy rice, avoiding at all costs the grains that stick to the bottom of the pot. But in many parts of the world, including most of Latin America, cooking rice so that a crispy, crunchy crust creates a layer upon which the bulk of the rice rests is an art. “Not everyone is skilled at making pegao,” writes Albert Ortega in the cookbook, Puerto Rican Food Recipes: La Cocina Criolla, referring to Puerto Ricans' name for this prized layer of rice.
It's true: It takes technique, and just the right pot, to cook up a perfect pegao, the kind that will cause even the closest of families and the dearest of friends to fight over eating rights. But this treasured rice isn't called “pegao" in every Spanish-speaking country. Here's what you need to know to get your share no matter where you find yourself in Latin America.
PUERTO RICO: Pegao
Translated literally, “pegao” means “stuck,” so it's the perfect name to describe the rice that's cooked to a crisp on the bottom of a caldero. For Puerto Ricans, the pegao is the best part of the rice.
In his 2014 cookbook, Cocina Tropical, Puerto Rican chef Jose Santaella devoted a full page to the subject of pegao, writing “The rice, the pot, the method, and the finishing are all crucial to achieving rice with a good texture and the cherished pegao.... What many may think is a mistake, Puerto Ricans treasure as the best part of the rice.” Santaella says the secret, in terms of method, involves cooking the rice to perfection and then, in the final five or 10 minutes of cooking, raising the heat to make the bottom layer crispy.
And there's an etiquette to pegao, Santaella adds. “[I]t is customary to scoop mostly properly cooked rice onto the plate and then top it with a little bit of the pegao—but don't take it all! To take more than just a couple bites' worth of pegao would be... rude.”
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Concón
Concón is the name given to crispy, bottom-of-the-pot rice in the Dominican Republic, and as in Puerto Rico, it's coveted. But, say the authors of the food blog Dominican Cooking, perfect concón is not burnt. Rather, they write, it's a thin film that's “perfectly crunchy.”
Like Santaella, the Dominican food bloggers say the perfect pot is essential for delicious concón. In the Dominican Republic, an aluminum pot is standard, and it has to be just the right size. A too-small pot will likely result in burnt rice. And don't forget, your pot needs to be cured. A brand new, unseasoned pot won't yield tasty concón.
But even if you've got the perfect pot, don't expect to cook authentic Dominican concón on your first try. As with any rice dish, it takes time and a lot of experimentation before you strike the just-right balance between water and rice and figure out the timing based on your stove, the type of rice you're using, and your technique.
Raspa is such a staple of Cuban cuisine that it earned its own entry in the Cuban-Spanish dictionary, Cubaneando. There, it's described as residual rice, sugar, or milk that sticks to the bottom or sides of a cooking pot.
Of course, many Cubans living in Cuba aren't making rice in a caldero, as are their other Caribbean neighbors; instead, they're making it in an electric rice cooker. These arroceras just don't produce the same kind of crispy raspa that a good, well-loved aluminum or iron pot will. Plus, the quality of rice typically isn't that great, with home cooks hunting and pecking for choice grains, winnowing out stones and other foreign objects that would definitely wreak havoc on your raspa. Better to ask for your raspa outside Cuba, in an enclave like Little Havana in Miami.
COSTA RICA: Corroncho
With a name that imitates the crunchy texture and sound of the crispy rice, Costa Ricans prize corroncho just as much as Puerto Ricans parry for pegao.
But cuidado! This same word means something different in other countries, so if you're hoping for crispy rice in Colombia, don't ask for corroncho, or you'll be served a cake with minimal decoration. And definitely don't call a Colombian corroncho, it means tacky or low-class.
ARGENTINA: Arroz quemadito, tostado, pegado
Ana Astri-O'Reilly, an Argentinean now living in Texas, has fond memories of scraping her grandmother's paella pan for the crispy rice that lined its base. Arroz quemadito, tostado, or pegado are the names Argentineans use to describe this tasty rice, she says.
COLOMBIA: Pega, Cucayo
Colombians' name for crusty rice depends on the part of the country where they reside; in the interior, it's called la pega; on the coast, it's called el cucayo. This part of the rice is so popular that it's now being offered as a specialty on menus at upscale restaurants and it had its own food festival just this year. A Barranquilla restaurant named for it-- El Cucayo—specializes in the crusty rice.
In Peru, it's not enough to maintain the tradition of cooking and eating concolón; there's even a song about it! “Arroz con concolón” was written by the Afro-Peruvian composer Juan Criado; though he died in 1978, the song is still played today by popular musicians. And, of course, this prized part of the rice is still eaten with gusto.