Photo by Staff
Horchata Around Town
The flavor of homemade horchata can vary significantly from recipe to recipe. Here are a few more spots in and around town that do it right:
- El Paraiso: 4034 Crockett St., 804-262-0196
- La Milpa: 6925 Hull Street Road, 804-276-3391
- En Su Boca (pictured): 1001 N. Boulevard, 804-359-0768
Now that Richmond is properly thick with Mexican restaurants, food trucks and taquerias, it’s only fitting to talk about the ideal drink accompaniment for all the beans, alternative meat cuts and spices. I’m not talking Mexican Coke, people (and not those pretty, fruity Jarritos, either). I’m talking agua de horchata (pronounced or-chah-tah), a surprisingly refreshing drink when you consider that it’s rice water flavored with cinnamon, and sweetened and thickened with evaporated and condensed milk. Once poured over ice, though, its ability to complement Mexican cuisine is uncanny. Consider the delicate balance of saki and sushi or the heavier-handed combo of sweet tea and fried chicken. This food/drink relationship is exactly the same with horchata and tacos al pastor.
Horchata originated in Valencia, Spain, and is traditionally made from chufa nuts, water and sugar. But there’s also a version in practically every Latin American country from Venezuala to Ecuador. What you usually get in the United States is the aforementioned Mexican version made with rice. Martin Noreiga, co-owner of Tio Pablo Taqueria, draws on his own mother’s recipe, and he makes a finely balanced version at his restaurant. Just thick enough. Just sweet enough.
I visited Noreiga and head chef Teresa Castillo in their Shockoe Bottom kitchen one afternoon to watch the magic happen. Among boiling caldrons of potatoes and simmering vats of shredded meat, Castillo ground, strained and dashed flavor into pre-soaked rice water. Despite the simplicity, Noreiga and Castillo do have a few rules: Do not boil the rice, and always soak it with cinnamon sticks. Also, says Noriega, “you don’t want to use a lot of extra stuff, because you lose the flavor of the rice. You have to have the flavor of the rice and cinnamon together.”
Feel free to adjust the sweetness and consistency by varying the amount of milk and sugar. Vegans and the lactose -challenged can sub in almond milk or just leave out the milk. No matter what though, always, always, always serve horchata over ice. If it’s after noon on a Friday, add a jigger of vodka for a twist on a White Russian. Naturally, you’ll want to have mariachi songs playing in the background to set the mood. Or Vampire Weekend’s hit, “Horchata.” Just because you can.
Recipe: Tio Pablo’s Agua de Horchata
- 1/2 gallon water
- 2 cups of rice
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 2 cans of condensed milk
- 1 can of evaporated milk
- 4 drops of vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of sugar
Stir the water, rice, and cinnamon sticks together in a large bowl. Cover and let the mixture chill in the fridge overnight.
Remove the bowl, stir thoroughly and then strain.
Add 2 cans of condensed milk, 1 can of evaporated milk, the sugar, and the vanilla extract. Mix to combine. Serve over ice. Enjoy.