When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher decided that we would have a potluck dinner to help us get more involved in learning Spanish. Some children made decorations, some brought music, and I was asked to bring an entree. While my mother was a wonderful woman, cooking wasn’t her forte, and she had never made any Mexican food. So we grabbed a cookbook and found Arroz y Pollo con Jugo de Naranja (Rice and Chicken with Orange Juice).
She and I stood side by side in the kitchen, reading the recipe together, gathering the ingredients, and studying the pictures. Step by step we made the dish and when it came out of the oven it smelled wonderful. We each took a bite and stared at one another, stunned – it was absolutely amazing! I packed it up and took it to class, so proud of what we had created.
That was the day when I discovered cookbooks and I’ve been collecting them ever since. I started with a very old and tattered copy of The Joy of Cooking and now have bookshelves of all different types. And just like novels I read them cover to cover, tagging recipes I want to try. I will probably never make all the dishes but they are there just waiting for me!
Arroz con Pollo is a traditional Latin dish, rumored to have originated in Puerto Rico. While version vary from country to country, they all have a similar pattern. You fry chicken pieces in oil and then cook vegetables in the drippings. Place the chicken back in the pot, add rice and broth and simmer until rice is done and liquid has evaporated. Very simple, but oh so delicious!
I love the flavorings of Deborah Madison’s Baked Spanish Rice and thought it would lend itself to the traditional Arroz con Pollo. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, gathered from the stigmas of crocus flowers. This is a painstaking task that must be done by hand. The good news is that it is so fragrant that you only need a little to flavor an entire dish. If saffron is too expensive for you or you don’t care for its flavor, you can substitute Turmeric or Annato Seeds and still get the intense yellow color. This rice can also be used on its own as a side dish and makes a wonderful filling for Stuffed Bell Peppers.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
For a potluck dish or to serve at a party, use poached cubed chicken and add during last 15 minutes of cooking to warm through. This makes it much easier for guests to serve themselves and eat.
Kitchen Skill: Browning Chicken
Why: To add flavor to stewed chicken recipes
How: Add chicken to hot oil and cook over medium-high heat until browned on first side. Then flip and brown other side. The trick is to let it cook without moving it to get the best color and a crisp exterior. If you are constantly touching it, the chicken pieces won’t develop a crisp crust. If the chicken sticks to the bottom of the pan, leave it alone. When it has browned it will release on its own. If you try to force it you will tear the skin.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 Poblano or other mild pepper, chopped
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3 lb cut up chicken pieces
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup white wine or vermouth
- 3 cups rich chicken stock
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 pinches of saffron threads steeped in 2 tbsp boiling water
- 1-3/4 cups long-grain white rice
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- Chopped green onions
- Sauteed corn kernels, optional
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Wash chicken well and pat dry. Set aside.
- For Sofrito: In a 12-inch saute pan with straight sides, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Reduce to medium-low heat and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add remaining sofrito ingredients. Cook, stirring often, for about 20 minutes or until onions are softened and flavors have blended.
- For Chicken: Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup canola oil. Carefully place prepared chicken pieces in hot oil. Do not crowd pan, cook chicken in batches if needed. Brown chicken in oil for about 10 to 15 minutes per side, turning once, until golden brown. Remove chicken and set aside. Drain all but 2 tbsp of the oil.
- For Rice: Stir rice into warm sofrito, tossing to completely coat the rice with oil. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add remaining rice ingredients, except peas, stirring well to combine. Pour rice into Dutch oven with chicken drippings and stir well. Place chicken pieces on top. Cover and place in preheated oven. Bake 15 minutes then stir in peas. Bake for 15 to 20 more minutes or until rice is tender and chicken is cooked through.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a serving dish and keep warm. Using two forks, gently rake rice, separating the grains without compacting them. Scoop onto a serving platter, top with chicken, sprinkle with green onions and corn, and serve.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings