Hola queridos amigos. Grab your bathing suits and scuba gear, because today we're all going to the Pearl of the Caribbean, the island of Cuba. We shall dine on the beach, where the rustling of the swaying palm trees and the sounds of the sea will transcend us from the rigors of our daily lives.
Stop. You know, I would love to bring this group together, and hang out at the beach and all, while being catered by the tanned, and scantily-clad Raúl, the cabana boy, but let's face it friends, I can't afford to fly you all down to Cuba, I'm sorry. We'll just have to make do with an Island Sounds CD, and a kiddie pool. I'll bring the Maracas...
...are you still with me?
Ok, what I can offer you is a little taste of the island. A taste of a delicious and comforting one-pot dish that is Arroz con Pollo. This will serve an army ... or a bunch of ravenous females who are now angry at me for cancelling a trip to the Caribbean. Forgive.
Arroz con Pollo
One 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red [or green] bell pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
½ cup dry white wine, or dry Vermouth
1 cup beer
¼ teaspoon Saffron
¼ cup tomato paste or 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups short grain Valencia rice *
½ cup frozen petite pois
1 bay leaf
salt and ground black pepper to taste
chopped, drained pimientos are typically used for garnish
Perejil (parsley), or fresh oregano can also be used to garnish this dish, but it is optional.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and cook the chicken pieces until golden, but still pink inside. Transfer the chicken to a platter and pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
Add the chopped onion, chopped bell pepper and minced garlic to the skillet. Cook until onion is translucent (not brown), about 7 or 8 minutes.
Stir in the rice until it is well coated with the oil, and cook for a few minutes, until the rice grains begin to look opaque. However, don’t let the rice take on color.
Add the chicken stock, cumin, oregano, white wine or dry Vermouth, beer, saffron, tomato paste, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste.
Make sure this mixture is fairly salty because the rice will absorb quite a bit of it.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Stir ingredients to combine and arrange chicken pieces on top.
Bring it to a boil, uncovered, until most of the water is absorbed and small craters form on top of the rice, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the petit pois. Cover and place in the oven until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
You could finish cooking this dish on top of the stove, covered, over medium heat, but the rice will cook more evenly in a moderate oven.
Garnish Arroz con Pollo with finely chopped pimientos. Yields 4 generous servings.
*True Arroz con Pollo is made with Valencia rice[short grain rice]. Come closer, and I'll let you in on a little secret. While I use Valencia rice in many dishes, including Paella and even in some desserts, it has always been my personal preference to use long grain rice in Arroz con Pollo. I hope it won't make me any less Cuban. Btw, if you cannot find Valencia rice, Arborio rice is a fine substitute. Enjoy.