Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Special Treat

I have a special treat for you today.  It's a recipe from my childhood.  It was the first family recipe I ever learned to make.  My friends might call this my specialty.  If we're having a pot luck dinner, or if I offer to make them dinner, this is a common request.  It is Arroz con Pollo.

For a large chunk of my formative years, I was raised by mom and her parents.  My mom worked full-time, and her parents were there after school to watch my brother and me.  They also did a lot of the cooking.  Some of my favorites were baked ziti (believe me, they put their Cuban twist on it, and perhaps I'll share that recipe soon), chicken fricase, and arroz con pollo.  When I was 19, I got my first apartment.  It was a 3-bedroom, on-campus apartment shared between 6 girls.  It was an apartment and not a dorm for one simple reason: it had a kitchen! I was so excited to be able to cook my own meals and not have to rely on the cafeteria.  One of the first things I wanted to make for my roommates was arroz con pollo.  So I called up my mom and I think she e-mailed me the "recipe."  I use quotes because when you have something that's so ingrained in you, you know the basics, likes how much chicken and how much rice to use.  But you lose track of how much of everything else.  Please keep that in mind, the spices are estimated.  The vegetables are adjusted to my tastes, but vary depending on the size of my pepper and onion.

I do have one very important note: This is NOT fried rice.  Please do not add soy sauce, or you risk breaking my heart.  (Though I did learn that a touch of Frank's Red Hot gives it a nice kick.)  I was still in that on-campus apartment, and was involved in a group project/competition with some classmates.  Since I was the only one with a kitchen, I told them if we won, I'd make them dinner.  We did, and I made them my very special arroz con pollo.  We're sitting around the table chatting and eating and there happen to be a few leftover packets of soy and ducks sauces in the center of the table.  This one guy, on whom I had a tremendous crush, reached into the center of the table, picked up a packet of soy sauce, and proceeded to ruin my beloved dish.  I never fewed him the same way after that.  Clearly, if he couldn't appreciate my cooking for what it is, we would not have any long term compatibility.

Arroz con Pollo
6-8 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb chicken breast, cubed
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
dash basil
2 bay leaves
1.5 cups long-grained rice
1.5 cups water
1/2 packet "Goya Sazón con culantro y achiote"
1 can (15 oz) gandules/green pigeon peas


We start by making a sofrito.

Then cube your chicken.

Add chicken to sofrito, season with spices, and let brown.

Add rice and sazón.

Add gandules when rice is cooked.

1. Heat oil over medium heat in a medium sized pot.  When oil is hot, add pepper and cook just until soft, about 1 minute.  Add onion and garlic, and cook for another minute until all vegetables are soft. (This mixture of cooked peppers, onion, and garlic is called sofrito.)

2. Add chicken to the cooked vegetables.  Season with oregano, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and basil.  Stir everything in the pot and add bay leaves.  Cook about 5 minutes over medium heat, until chicken is browned.  Then reduce heat to medium-low and cook an additional 5-10 minutes until chicken pieces are cooked through.

3. While chicken is cooking, rinse rice until water runs clear.  Once chicken is cooked, add rice and water to pot.  Then add seasoning packet.  (Note: I am working on creating my own seasoning blend, but until I perfect it, I'll continue to use Goya, as that's what my grandmother used.)  Stir everything together and let rice cook for 20-30 min, stirring occasionally.  Cook until rice is soft.  Once dish is cooked, stir in gandules, until they are warmed through.  This only takes another minute or 2, as the heat from the rice will warm them up.

(Side note: If you use the wrong kind of pan, the rice on the bottom will burn.  However, I love to scrape it off with a fork and eat the burnt pieces.  We call it the raspitas.  This was always my favorite part of any rice dish.  Once you scrape all the rice off, pour a thick layer of table salt over the burnt surface of the pot.  Add a couple of inches of warm water.  Let it soak for at least an hour, overnight is better.  Then scrape the bottom with a spatula and all the burntness will go away like magic!)

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