Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Arroz con Pollo

My kids are at the restaurant for dinner tonight and I, like cooking parents everywhere, sometimes struggle to find dishes with good kid appeal for dinner. But I'm not struggling tonight because I'm making arroz con pollo. Vegetarians aside, is there anyone who doesn't love chicken and rice?

Arroz con pollo is one of those dishes that sometimes causes skirmishes (read "religious wars") for the mere reason that everyone's abuela (grandmother) makes the best version in the world. The truth is that everyone's arroz con pollo is pretty decent, with the exception of a version that one of my Mexican dishwashers made for me. He claimed that arroz con pollo was one of his great dishes; apparently he cannot even warm a taco in a microwave.

I'm a through-and-through gringo with no Latino or Spanish heritage, so it's not possible for my grandmother to have one of those "best in the world" versions of arroz con pollo. This is greatly liberating for me in that I am able to steal bits and pieces of the dish from around the world and not have my version judged by the grandma standard.

For my version tonight, I'm starting by marinating bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs in a classic Cuban mojo of lime juice (sorry, no sour oranges in the house), olive oil, garlic, cilantro, oregano, cumin, black pepper, and here I go deviating again, pimentón.

The choice of rice is critical. Arroz requires a short-grained rice so that it has a risotto- or paella-like texture, so I went into the pantry to get some Arborio rice. The traditional rice for paella is Sollana (aka Calasparra) or Bomba, both available at La Tienda; to reduce items in inventory, we stock only Arborio, which is a good, but not perfect, substitute. In the pantry, however, I got sidetracked by the Carolina Gold rice from Anson Mills, which is also a fantastic rice short-grained rice. Tonight, may your abuela not roll in her grave, I'm using Carolina Gold.

Not to put to fine a point on it, arroz is all about the quality of the rice. When I order arroz in a Mexican restaurant and I get Uncle Ben's, that's a clear signal that they don't care about the quality of their food. But, I can understand that if you've got starving kids and 45 minutes to get dinner on the table, you're going to use whatever you have in your pantry. Just make sure you get some good rice on your next trip to the store.

I also like my arroz more like paella in flavoring, so I am using a bit of chorizo in it, backed up by the pimentón. I also am using fresh tomatoes rather than tomato paste as in many versions of arroz. And, a big pinch of saffron will find its way into the pan.

To start my dish, I made some annatto oil (1/4 cup vegetable oil heated with 2 teaspoons of annatto seeds; seeds removed) in which I will brown the chicken and then cook my sofrito of yellow onion and red Corno di Toro pepper.

Here then is a recipe for approximately what I did. I didn't measure the liquid at all; I have cooked so many rice dishes in my life that I can just eyeball it. Fortunately, rice is pretty forgiving and you can always add more liquid if you need it. Serves 8.

Ed's Confused Arroz con Pollo

Chicken Mojo

8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
juice of three limes, two sour oranges, or one orange and one lime
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground

Mix the chicken with all of the mojo ingredients and refrigerate until you are ready to cook it.

Mise en Place

1/4 cup annatto oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
4 ounces hard spanish chorizo, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 12-ounce bottle lager beer
salt and pepper
large pinch of saffron threads
2 cups short-grained rice (Carolina Gold, Arborio, Bomba)
1 quart water or stock

Preheat your oven to 350F. Heat the annatto oil in a large sautoir or other oven proof pan. Brown the chicken and remove. Add the onion and pepper and cook until the onion starts to wilt, about three minutes. Add the chorizo and tomatoes and cook for another minute. Add the beer, salt, pepper, saffron, and any remaining mojo from the chicken; stir well. Return the chicken to the pan and let cook, turning once, about 4 to 5 minutes per side, then remove again. Add the rice to the pan with about three cups of water or stock. Stir well and let return to the boil. Place the chicken on the rice evenly and in a single layer. Cover the pan and place into the oven for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and check for doneness and need for more liquid. Cook longer and add more liquid as appropriate.

¡Buen Provecho!

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