Over the past year or so, I’ve learned that my favorite foods are the so-called “peasant” or “country” varieties: simple risottos, stews, braises, cheap cuts of meat, long-cooked vegetables thrown in a pot. It doesn’t matter where these dishes originate from, if a recipe says it’s a favorite of “the people,” “the farmers,” or “the lower-class,” I’m down.
Not to toot my own horn (yeah, right) but I cook these dishes pretty damn well. I have no idea if my versions are totally “authentic” or sometimes if they even resemble the dishes they are titled after. I do know, though, that they are good.
Arroz con Pollo, what I would call a Spanish Risotto, has to be my favorite food to make for a group of people. I’ve served it at parties, to friends, to myself pretending I had enough stomach to polish off 8 servings. It’s always a hit. People rave. Jim declared it my “signature dish.” I’m getting a big head.
You can find a few recipes for Arroz con Pollo on the internet but a lot of them are conventional recipes—they give you the ingredients and a step-by-step but they lack a certain style. Like, you could follow the recipe and get tasty results but they don’t tell you to let the rice burn a bit on the bottom of the pan and then to scrape it up and into the body of the rice before serving. They don’t mention that you should add in the rest of the beer that’s left in the 40 oz after you’ve drank just enough to start a kitchen-salsa (you could also substitute a regular bottle here.) And, for whatever prudish reason, no one mentioned that you have to taste, continuously, seasoning with pimento in between tastes, until you find the perfect flavor.
These are the little details that make this type of food so delicious. A dash here, a little dancing there, a few kisses blown into the pot. Most recipes don’t tell you how much love is needed. But, I swear, you cannot omit it.
Arroz con Pollo
Sometimes I’m in the mood for chicken-with-the-skin-and-bones for this dish, sometimes I just want the easily shreddable skinless-boneless. If you are going that route, use chicken thighs. Dark meat is best here (or anywhere else for that matter.)
1 (3-pound) whole chicken, cut into 10 serving pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons spanish smoked pimento
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2-3/4 pound dried hot chorizo sausages, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 large Spanish onion (or two small), chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cups long grain white rice
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, warm
1 bottle pale beer (I like Bass here, but you could use any light-tasting beer)
1 cup pimento stuffed green olives (optional)
Pimento, Salt, and Pepper to taste
Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry. In a small bowl, blend salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, pimento and cayenne. Rub each piece of chicken with the spices and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes for the flavor to develop.
In a heavy, 6 qt casserole with lid, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Fry the chorizo over medium heat until it is crispy and renders its fat. Remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down, and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes Remove from pan and set aside. Saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper, scraping up all the bottom scraps. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the rice in and stir until all the pieces are coated in the oil.
Add the tomatoes and broth, season with salt and pepper. Return the chorizo and chicken to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with pimento, salt, and pepper or anything else you like. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add in the beer. Stir to scrape up and browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cover again and cook until the chicken is done and the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid, about 10-20 minutes. If the rice isn’t done, add a little water or more beer if you like the taste. If you want extra of the browned bits (taste them first), bring up the heat for the last couple minutes of cooking. Let rest about 10 minutes before serving. Taste before serving and season if needed. Scatter the olives on top if you like. Leftovers are the best past; it will get spicier with each day. Serve it to your favorite people—people who you wouldn’t mind big, sloppy kisses from.