Hispanic culture is such a kaleidoscope of color, defined only by the limitations of a paint palette. When I think of Mexico, Spain and Cuba, I see a swirl of a flamenco dancer’s skirt, ruffled, layered in hues bursting with vibrancy. Hispanic foods echo that, and none more so than Arroz con pollo, the succulent chicken and rice one pot meal full of flavor. The dish likely originated in Spain, but there are variations of it in many other countries.
It’s not essential to prepare this in a traditional paella pan, a low, wide two-handled skillet. A large Dutch oven works equally well. The one ingredient that shouldn’t be skipped, however, is saffron. The spice comes from the styles and stigmas of the crocus flower, which are dried. Saffron lends beautiful orange-yellow color to dishes, as well as a delicate, sweet grass essence. Soak in warm water to release the tiny threads’ flavor. It’s expensive, but you’ll only need a small amount for a recipe, so it will last a long time.
Arroz con pollo Recipe
12 pieces bone-in chicken (four breasts and eight thighs), rinsed and dried
2 T Mexican oregano
Note: find Mexican oregano in larger grocery stores in the Mexican foods section, or at Penzeys. This fragrant version of the verbena family has a citrusy, almost bitter aroma and is less sweet. Its hardier notes are better suited to this Spanish dish than Mediterranean oregano.
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pepper
3 T olive oil
2 green peppers, diced
1 – 1/2 medium sweet onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in a small bowl with cold water
1/3 cup Goya sofrito
Note: sofrito is a cooking base made from tomatoes, green peppers, onion, cilantro and garlic. It adds an intense flavor to this sauce. Look for it in the Latin section of most larger grocery stores. The mixture refrigerates well once opened.
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt to taste
2 – 1/2 cups diced canned tomatoes with juice
2 – 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 – 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
1 cup frozen peas
Combine oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub onto chicken and let sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350°F.
In large Dutch oven or paella pan with lid, heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown chicken in batches on all sides until deeply browned. Remove browned pieces to a clean plate.
Add the green peppers and onions to the pot and stir to coat with oil. Add garlic and saffron and cover, cooking on medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until vegetables are wilted but not browned.
Add sofrito, tomatoes with juices, water and wine to the pot, stirring to combine.
Nestle the chicken pieces skin side up among the vegetables, cover pot and bake in oven for 30 minutes.
Remove pot from the oven and sprinkle the rice between chicken pieces. Add the olives. Stir all ingredients carefully, making sure rice is covered with liquid and chicken remains nestled in the rice and vegetable mixture. Season with salt to taste.
Cover and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Mix in peas and continue baking, covered, for another 10-20 minutes, or until rice has absorbed all the liquid. This amount will vary based on your rice and individual ovens.
Remove from oven and let rest covered for 10 minutes before serving.
Stephanie Davis, Feeding the Famished wine guru, and star of WineTwoFive, caught me off guard with this one. She asks: “Who says you have to pair Italian wine with Italian food?” Stephanie suggests since this classic Spanish dish benefits from white wine in the cooking process, why not enjoy the dish with a lesser known Italian dry, white wine called Falanghina. Pronounced fah-lawn-GHEE-nah, the wine will delight your palate, surprise your dinner companion and maybe get you a little tongue tied. All for $12/bottle.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.