One-dish Wonder: Arroz con Pollo

By Bill Turner

In the spring issue of At The Lake, pre-COVID-19, which seems like ages and ages ago, we started to look at some of the great recipes from around the world. In that case, it was butter chicken, arguably the most popular dish in India. Now we’ll look at another great international recipe, arroz con pollo (rice with chicken).

This dish originated in Spain but has become one of the true classics of Latin America and the Caribbean. The recipe varies from one country to another: the Brazilians put black beans in the rice plus add sausage and the Puerto Ricans claim theirs is the only “true” recipe. Every country and every cook have a variation on this dish. The recipe lends itself to endless modifications and it’s hard to mess up. I like the recipe we’re presenting here because it is mild and has saffron. It reminds me of Spanish paella.

In the age of COVID-19, we are inundated with statistics and life can get tedious, so let’s take a break from the usual dreary numbers and have some fun. There are over 650 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, or about 150 million family units. The average family makes this dish at least once every 50 days. That means three million batches of arroz con pollo are made every day! Go ahead and check the math — that’s a lot of zeros!

Some people like to buy a whole chicken and cut it up to make this dish. In our house, we’ve done it that way and we’ve also purchased every part of the chicken — breasts, thighs or tenders. Some like to keep the parts intact, like a whole leg, thigh or breast. Some dice the meat into bite-size pieces. Some prefer to leave on the skin for more flavor. If you want to save some time, buy a rotisserie chicken at a supermarket, cut it up and add it at the appropriate time in the recipe.

The basic idea is to cook the vegetables, brown the meat and add the spices, including saffron, while on the stovetop. You then add the rice and the chicken broth and put it in the oven to bake. The rice cooks beautifully and absorbs all of the great flavors. You end up with a great one-pot meal.

WHAT IS SAFFRON?

Saffron has been used as a spice for over 5,000 years. It is the most expensive of all spices and can vary in price depending on quality. According to saffron.com, costs can range from $3,500-$160,000 per kilo. Saffron produces a rich floral, sweet aroma and taste, and is used primarily to flavor rice. It contains a pigment which gives rice a beautiful, golden yellow color.

Saffron is sold as “threads,” which are the red stigmata of a fall blooming purple crocus that grows only in the Mediterranean region. It’s estimated that 90% of the world’s saffron is produced in Iran, so the supply chain may be impacted by politics and economic embargoes, but you can find saffron from Spain at Daniels Sentry in Walworth.

A stigma is like a silk on an ear of corn, which is is the female part of the plant that receives pollen. As every Midwesterner knows, each ear of corn usually has about 800 silks or stigmata, each of which gives birth to a kernel of corn. The little saffron crocus has only three stigmata.

For our arroz con pollo recipe, keep reading below.

Arroz Con Pollo Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 2 lbs. of chicken (breasts, thighs, legs, tenders, in whatever combination you like)
  • 2 cups onions, diced
  • 2 cups red pepper, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. pimento, chopped
  • 1⁄4 cup black olives, chopped
  • 1⁄4 cup raisins
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1⁄2 tsp. saffron threads
  • 1⁄2 cup white wine
  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1⁄4 cup cilantro, chopped
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • While starting to cook, soak saffron in wine to “unlock” the spice.
  • Pat chicken dry with paper towel and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, oven-safe sauté pan and cook chicken until golden brown —about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  • Adding more oil if necessary, cook onions and red pepper until they start to soften.
  • Add 1⁄2 tsp. of salt and pepper, the saffron mixture, garlic, pimento and black olives and cook for another 4 minutes.
  • Add rice, raisins, the reserved chicken and chicken broth. Mix well, cover the pan and transfer to oven for 30-40 minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
  • Remove from oven. Let sit for 10 minutes. Check seasoning. Stir in cilantro and serve.

Here are some variations to this recipe:

  • Add thin slices of chorizo sausage along with the rice and broth before putting into the oven.
  • Add 1-2 cups of frozen peas or corn along with the rice and broth before putting into the oven.
  • Add some heat by including some paprika (maybe 1 Tbsp.), cayenne (no more than 1⁄2 tsp.) and cumin (1 tsp.).
  • Reduce broth and add canned or stewed tomatoes.

If you have leftovers, they will keep well in the refrigerator for a week. Freezing does not work well. Give this great dish a try. Salud!

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