One of my all time favorite Puerto Rican dishes from my childhood, has to be arroz con pollo, that’s right this dish. I don’t get to make it very often, and in fact haven’t made it in years, but when I do, it’s like going back to my childhood and those wonderful years and memories, spending time and hanging with my brothers and sisters. We would sit by the television watching Charlie Brown or some other memorable cartoon from that period. My favorite has always been Rudolph the Red Nosed Rain Deer. Oh well, what can I tell yuh!
So while I wasn’t sure what to make for dinner last night, walking by the poultry section of the market made it a no brain-er. I thought at first that fried chicken would be the way to go, but with very little thinking, I re-thought the menu and recalled this amazing dish; arroz con pollo. Bing that was easy! I did make some changes to the original recipe, but boy am I glad I did. I used a classic mire poix, instead of the usual sofrito or recaito recipe, to prepare my dish and it made all of the difference. It was like night and day literally. The choice to chef out and veer off of the beaten-path, was just the thing that this recipe needed to kick it up a few notches, and bring it to the next level. Typically the dish begins with frying or sauteing some sofrito in some cooking oil, usually something like a corn oil, or more commonly now days, canola oil. But for me, olive oil is the way to go. Also, some tomato sauce in the form of a libby’s or goya tomato sauce. I’ve changed so much about my cooking style and technique that making this dish, has I think finally reached its zenith or pinnacle, at least for my taste buds. In place of the tomato sauce, I used tomato paste, and also, omitted the perfunctory sofrito. Not that this is wrong by any means. I’ve just been playing with different flavor combinations and introducing them into my traditional Puerto Rican dishes and seeing what if any improvement or enhancement, they can lend. The one thing I wish I did have with this dish, was some sweet plantains. And I do mean “sweet”! Here’s how I did it.
For this recipe I used:
2 chicken legs (included thighs and drumsticks)
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
3 cups water
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
4 garlic cloves
1 large celery stalk
2 fresh bay leaves (laurel leaves)
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp red chilli flakes
3 tbs minced cilantro leaves
1 Knorr chicken bouillon (or 3 cups chicken stock)
1 1/2 tbs tomato paste
3 tbs cooking oil (olive oil)
Cut the chicken thighs in half, separating the drums sticks and thighs. I took an extra step and removed the drum stick nubs, by cutting or slicing with a sharp chef knife along the circumference just above the nubs, and hacking the nubs off. It looks better this way for presentation purposes, but not a necessary step. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder all sides of the chicken. Prepare your mis en place of carrots, onion, celery and garlic by dicing and mincing and set aside in a bowl. Preheat a skillet and add the cooking oil. Once heated, add your chicken pieces skin side down. This part is very important as this provides huge flavor. (I use a 10″ lodge blackened cast iron skillet). Sear all sides till browned, but not cooked all the way through. About 4 minutes each side. (Brown food is flavor) Remove from the heat and set aside to rest on a plate. Bring to a boil 3 cups of water. In a small bowl, crumble or break up the chicken bouillon and add 1/4 cup of the hot water to dissolve. In a 4 quart dutch oven cast iron pot (I use le creuset 4 quart), heat up 3 tbs of olive oil. Add the mire poix (carrots, onion, celery and garlic) and a pinch of salt and pepper to season. Sautée till lightly colored and onions are translucent. Add the tomato paste and sautée for an additional 2 minutes. Add the rice, chilli flakes and ground cumin, and stir to combine with the tomato paste and mire poix, stirring till thoroughly combined and the rice has absorbed the color of the paste, about 3 minutes. Add the bay leaves and the chicken pieces to the pot. Add the dissolved chicken bouillon and the remaining hot water. Season the broth to taste. (Bouillons do contain salt, so taste as you go). Do not over salt but do not be afraid to season! Stir the pot once and do not cover. Allow the water or broth to reduce till there are small bubbles remaining on top of the rice. Once most of the broth has been absorbed, reduce the heat to low and stir the pot once more, mixing the rice from the bottom to the top. (You want to form a small mound). Cover the pot with aluminum foil and place the pot lid on top of the foil to form a tight seal.
Cook for an additional 20 minutes till the rice and chicken are cooked and the rice is fluffy and the chicken is tender. Turn off the pot and allow the rice to rest with the lid on for 5 minutes before serving. Serve and garnish with the minced cilantro and a bit of finishing salt (Maldon’s Sea Salt) for that delicious crunch and amazing texture (optional).