This edition of Culinary K will be brought you by resident guest blogger, Victor Anibal Rodriguez.
What comes to mind when someone mentions Spanish cuisine? For me it’s tapas, tortilla, and of course Paella. Paella is one of the most well-known dishes in Spanish Cuisine. It is also one of the tastier ones. If you’ve never had it, I highly recommend it.
I’m not going to delve into the history of paella, but I will say that the dish is only prepared on very special occasions. The reason for this is because paella is very expensive to make. In fact, it includes the most expensive ingredient in the world; saffron. Good saffron can set you back between $200 and $300 an ounce. And you thought caviar was pricey. And as if a $200 dollar an ounce ingredient wasn’t bad enough, the dish also includes a variety of expensive seafood and exotic meats. Not to mention it is a huge pain in the butt to prepare. However, the textures and flavors that dance around in your mouth make it all worthwhile. So if you ever have the means to eat some paella, try it, it is a rare treat.
It is of course by no surprise that the dish also made its way to my native land of Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans love a good paella. In fact, we love it so much that we wanted to have it more often, but it wasn’t economically feasible to make every day or even every week. And so was born “Arroz con Pollo.”
“Arroz con Pollo” literally means “rice with chicken.” A word of warning, do your best not to call it “Arroz con Polla.” Trust me that would not be good. Oh, and don’t Google that either.
“Arroz con Pollo” is a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine. It is a sister dish to the popular paella. It is not only delicious, but it is also economical. It’s got flavor, texture and unlike its sibling paella, it’s relatively easy to make.
The key of course are the ingredients. Saffron and seafood are too expensive to use on a daily basis. However, the Spaniards discovered a plant on the island whose seeds give off a bright red pigment when mixed with hot oil. The pigment was very popular with the local Taino Indians who used it to decorate their bodies. It is called Achiote, or Annatto.
Annatto will stain just about anything so be careful with it. That is, if you can find it. The seeds are not very popular here in the states, so they are hard to find, but some supermarkets do carry it. Especially if there is a large Hispanic community in your area. If you can’t find it locally try Penzeys Spices.
While most Americans don’t use it in their daily cooking, food manufacturers use the seeds all of the time. For example, cheese manufacturers use it to give cheeses that nice orange color without altering much of the flavor. Annatto has a lot of practical applications, but this article is not about the Annatto seed. Perhaps someday.
Below is the recipe that I been using for years. It’s a combination of my mother’s recipe and one that I found in a book called “Puerto Rican Cuisine in America”. I hope you enjoy it.
Achiote Oil (needed to give the rice its famous yellow or orange color)
½ cup of vegetable oil (for the love of God, do not use Canola. In fact, get rid of that shit if you’re still using it. Also, if you really wanna go traditional, use lard. Yes, you’ll die young, but you’ll be happy.)
1 tablespoon of annatto seeds
- In a small saucepan heat the oil on medium-low. You don’t want the oil super hot. Hot enough so when you place a drop of water, the oil complains a little, but it doesn’t spit the water out back at you. Keep it at this temperature. If you have a thermometer, no hotter than 200°F.
- Drop the heat to low and put the seeds in the pan. Stir occasionally and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. The longer you let it cook the darker in hue the oil will get.
- After 5 minutes, kill the heat.
- With a metal (and I mean metal, trust me) wire strainer, strain the oil into a glass jar or container. (Remember this will stain anything so be careful while you pour. Try not to use a plastic container. )
- Toss the seeds. (or you can give it to a cat you hate)
- Cover the oil and refrigerate for up to 2-3 months.
The annatto oil can be used for any application that requires cooking with a little oil, and it will give the food a nice yellow, orange or red coloring depending on how much oil you use.
Arroz Con Pollo
|3 cups of long grain rice
2-3 lbs of chicken pieces, skinned (refrain from just using chicken breasts. And don’t go boneless either. Bones add a lot of flavor. It ain’t gonna kill you!)
Up to 1lb of other meats (optional, but subtract from the chicken)
8-12 whole black peppercorns
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled (who are we kidding? The more garlic the better. Go nuts!)
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 ounces of lean cured ham, diced
1 medium onion chopped
|1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
3 ají dulce (sweet chili peppers, or Cubanelle peppers), chopped
½ cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock or broth
6-10 pitted and stuffed olives
2 cups water
2 tablespoons achiote oil (recipe above)
1-8 ½ ounce can green peas drained, or 1-10 ounce package frozen green peas
1 small jar of roasted red peppers, cut into strips
- Wash rice and drain at least three times. You don’t want that extra starch, trust me.
- Rinse chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. You don’t want that extra salmonella, trust me.
- Place peppercorns, garlic, oregano, and salt in a mortar and pound the shit out of them until crushed and you have a grainy paste. (Did I say this was easy? I may have exaggerated a bit.)
- Blend in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the vinegar.
- Rub chicken pieces and other meats thoroughly with the garlic paste. Let it sit out to marinate for 15-30 minutes or slide into the ice-box overnight for better flavor.
- In a heavy pot or Dutch oven heat the remaining olive oil in medium-high heat. In batches add the chicken. You are looking to brown the outside of the chicken until it is golden brown. We are not looking to cook the chicken just yet. (Don’t crowd the pot, leave plenty of room between chicken pieces.)
- This would be the time to brown the other meats if you decide on adding them.
- Brown the chicken on each side for 2-3 minutes. Once the chicken touches the pot, don’t try to touch it or move it no matter how much it complains. Just let it be. Once the chicken browns, take it out of the pot and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium, if the pot is dry you may add a little more oil.
- Brown the ham for a few minutes then add the onions, bell pepper, and the sweet pepper. Sauté until onions are translucent.
- Add tomato sauce, chicken broth or stock, and olives. Stir to combine. Make sure that you get all the little bits of burnt goodness from the bottom of the pot that the chicken left behind. There is a lot of good flavor there. For best results use a wire whisk.
- Add the chicken pieces back to the pot plus 2 cups of water. Mix then lower heat to moderate-low and cook well covered for 15 minutes.
- Add rice and achiote oil. Add more water to cover contents in pot, if necessary. Mix well and simmer, covered, on low heat until rice is tender (about 30 minutes).
- Stir in peas and roasted red peppers. Cover and cook 10 minutes more.
- Serve with some platanos maduros (Recipe coming soon) and/or a slice of fresh avocado.
Servings: 1, okay maybe two. I hate sharing!
Calories: a lot, but who cares?