Friday, February 6, 2015

Arroz con Pollo

Growing up in a New Orleans/Cuban household had its food related perks. While a good home-cooked meal tended to skew toward the Cajun side of our heritage, there were two mouthwatering Cuban dishes that my mom specialized in- the cardiologist's worst nightmare fried steak known as milanesa and the simple yet oh so soul enrichingly delightful arroz con pollo. Now that I had wet my toes in the Cuban cooking water, it was time to tackle one of my mom's heavy hitters.

Would my arroz con pollo make my ancestors proud, or would I be cut out from my future inheritance?

Arroz con Pollo
Adapted from discussions with my Mom and The Cuban Table by A. Pelaez and E. Silverman
Servings: 8-10
Time: 2 hours

3 lbs chicken (I used breasts and thighs)
Lime juice
Pretty much the base for all Cuban dishes and for good reason
1/2 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped and drained pimentos + more for garnish
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp saffron
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Red chilli flakes to taste
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine
6 oz beer
1/2 lb asparagus, chopped
3 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 16 oz package short grain Spanish Saffron Rice
1 cup sweet peas

  1. Miss your Cuban mom's home-cooking.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large oven-safe pot until hot but not smoking.
  3. Brown the chicken in the oil for ~6-8 minutes per side. Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels.
  4. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, and garlic in the oil until the onion becomes soft and translucent (~ 6 minutes).
  5. Stir in the crushed tomato, pimentos, cumin, oregano, nutmeg, cayenne, saffron, red chilli flakes, and bay leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Return the chicken to the pot along with the wine and beer. Let simmer for 5 more minutes.
  7. Add the asparagus, water, and bouillon cubes. Adjust seasonings (it's okay to be a little salty now because the rice will help). Bring to a boil.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  9. Add the Spanish Saffron Rice and let boil over high heat uncovered for 20-25 minutes until the rice has absorbed a good amount of the liquid.
  10. Mix in the peas, cover, and let cook in the oven for an additional 20 minutes.
  11. Serve with additional pimentos for garnish.
  12. Take in all the love.
I would like to thank my stomach for being too small to physically allow me to eat the entire pot in one sitting.
Each bite transported me back to my mom's table, and would have made her even more gushingly proud than she usually is. Sure the dish sounds simple (it's chicken and rice after all), but the flavors are anything but. The result was essentially a risotto/stew hybrid combining both juiciness and heartiness, while the chicken was perfectly moist and fall-apart tender. The rice and chicken absorbed all the wine, beer, saffron, and broth goodness to hammer home that Cuban soul, while the cayenne instilled some Cajun spirit and spice. There isn't a single thing about this dish that I would have changed because it hit each and every note (and heart string) exactly as I had hoped.

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