Rice pretty much didn’t exist in the household where I grew up. When I asked for it, it was cooked in milk an hour or so, and sweetened, the only way my mother had ever had it. The idea of it coming with a main course, or, God forbid, being a main course, was unheard of.
Time passed, and now there are, umm, let me count...basmati, jasmine, sticky rice, Valencia, red rice from the Camargue, arborio, long grain American, and I think some brown rice are all hanging around my kitchen. I’m not quite sure just how the bug got me so badly, but it may have to do with a very basic chicken and rice recipe I picked up from a book called "The Impoverished Student’s Book of Cookery, Drinkery and Housekeepery" from Reed College.
This recipe is probably my favorite of the four or five I have, handsome and tasty, and serves six people nicely. It calls for a couple of ingredients not commonly found in most kitchens. Here in St. Louis, I send folks to La Tropicana Market, 5001 Lindenwood Ave., 314-353-7328, a little wonderland of good things to eat and cook with. You can pick up the short-grained Valencia rice, which is sold under the La Preferada brand, as well as Bijol seasoning, or annato. I use the Bijol, and haven’t tried the plain annato. Either will turn your rice a glorious golden yellow. Be sure and have a Cuban sandwich while you’re at Tropicana. The rice is also available at some Schnucks stores; sometimes it’s in with Hispanic foods and sometimes it’s with all the other rice.
I am sure that classically, this would be served with a pot of black beans, but I usually go for a salad unless I’m feeding a large group. It also would work well on a buffet line, if you use an oven-to-table dish, like a Le Creuset pot or terra-cotta cazuela, the Spanish casserole-like dish.
Arroz Con Pollo
adapted from Mmmmiami
1 package "best of fryer" chicken parts - these usually run about 4-41/2 lbs - or an equivalent amount of your choice of chicken parts
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
About 2 hours before serving, finish the dish with the following:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large green pepper cored, seeded and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. Bijol or ground annatto seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano (yes, there really are two places where you use cumin and oregano)
14 oz. Valencia rice, about 2 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine
5-6 cups chicken broth
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes (about 2 cups), not drained
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
1 Tablespoon drained capers
12 small pimiento-stuffed olives
1 6 1/2 oz. jar diced pimientos
1 9 oz. package frozen peas (about 2 cups)
Using a 12-inch deep, heavy skillet, a Dutch oven, or a paella pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade if there’s any left, and brown the pieces in the oil. This will have to be done in several batches. After each piece browns, set it aside in a container that will hold any juices that drain off.
Drop the heat to medium. Saute the onion, green pepper and garlic until soft. Stir in the Bijol or annato, cumin and oregano, and saute for another couple of minutes. Add the rice, and stir well to coat it with the oil and spices. Here's the Bijol, before it's stirred in:
Add the wine, the smaller amount of broth, the tomatoes and their juice, bay leaf, and any remaining marinade. Bring the liquid to a boil and drop the heat to low. Taste - the liquid should be salty, since you’re seasoning all this rice and chicken. Return the chicken to the pan, burying the pieces as well as you can.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the chicken and rice simmer gently, uncovered, until most of the liquid is absorbed, which should be about 30 minutes. Check it occasionally, turning the thicker chicken pieces and giving the rice a stir, so the grains on top have their turn underneath to cook in more moisture.
Stir in the capers and olives. Transfer the pan to the oven, covering it (using foil if your pan has no lid), and cook until the rice is tender. Add more broth if you need it - too much is not a crime, as some Latin cultures prefer this dish to be soupy. If you run out of broth, hot water can be used. This may take as much as a half-hour, depending on your oven and pan.
Meanwhile, drain the pimientos. Place the peas in a colander and run some hot water over them. When the rice is done, stir in the pimientos and peas, and remove the bay leaf if you see it.. Turn the oven off, re-cover the pan, return it to the turned-off oven, and hold it there until ready to serve.