Arroz con pollo

London is experiencing a heatwave at the moment – but that didn’t deter me from using my new Dutch oven. We found a nice, little green Dutch oven at a charity shop and I wanted to use it for the longest time.

Cooking during a heatwave is a bit extra, but I’ve been dealing. For dinner last night, I wanted to do something with the Dutch oven and thought arroz con pollo, a Latin American dish that combines wonderful flavours like spiciness, heat, brininess. There are lots of versions of arroz con pollo and this one I cobbled together from a variety of people and sources.

The trick to good arroz con pollo is to get a great fond in your Dutch oven. Once you got that, then you’re golden. Weirdly enough, my arroz con pollo turned out greener than the kind I remember, but who cares – it tasted good. I used dark meat because I knew I’d be stewing the chicken and I didn’t want to overcook the meat, but you can use chicken breast if you’re worried about health – also as I was cooking the dish, I realised that it’s possible to do this vegetarian, just leave out the chicken or substitute it with mushrooms.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken – I had three drumsticks and two thighs – bone-in and skin-on; this is where it’s up to you to decide how you want to do this dish, I used dark meat because I wanted to stew the dish for a little bit; also the the skin and bone add flavour to your dish
  • 1/2 onion, chopped finely – I mean finely, grated even
  • 1/2 carrot, chopped finely
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped finely – see above
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped finely – like the celery and onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely – you see a theme, right?
  • a large bunch of cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped finely
  • 1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 envelope of any kind of Mexican-style seasoning – I used some leftover taco seasoning
  • 1/4 cup of olives, chopped – the olives are of your choice, whatever you got in your refrigerator door. I used the pimento-stuffed kind
  • 3 tbl of capers, rinsed and drained – this is important, ‘cuz these suckers are salty AF
  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 packet of pre-cooked rice (I know, very slatternly of me)

So, first what you need to do is make the sofrito – a base for your dish. Sofrito is usually a mush of aromatics. I don’t have a blender or mixer because a London kitchen is too small for that nonsense, so I had to use two sharp knives, a cutting board, and a lot of patience. For my sofrito, I used the onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro, and just chopped that up over and over again, until I got a messy, gloppy, salsa-like mush. You can do this easier in a mixer, and in fact, I recommend this, as making sofrito by hand was a little much. Once you have the sofrito put it in a bowl and set aside for a moment. 

Next heat oil in your dutch oven over a low flame and place the chicken, skin side down. I choose to do it on a cold surface because I want the skin to render. As soon as the skin starts to brown and sizzle, let it cook, undisturbed for about 7 minutes on one side. I say undisturbed because you want the skin to darken and start to render its fat and crisp up – otherwise, if you mess with the chicken too soon, it’ll just stick to the bottom of the pot (which isn’t the end of the world, btw)

After about 7 minutes, turn the chicken over and cook for an additional 7 minutes and then remove and place on a platter. At this point, I quickly add the sofrito, reserving about half of it. while that’s sweating, remove the skin from the chicken, chop into tiny, tiny bits and add back into the pan – it’s a bit like the lardons of a coq au vin – see, fusion!

Anyways, cook, stirring, letting the skin crisp up – and let the sofrito soften. Add a bit of salt to draw out the moisture and continue to cook, making sure to scrap up any of the browned chicken skin bits. Add the seasonings – I did a quarter of the envelope – and stir, letting the oil and chicken fat bloom all those Latin spices. You gotta stir though because it’s easy for the spices to burn. 

Add the roughly chopped onions and stir, cooking to get the onions to turn translucent. This will take about 8 minutes. You’ll see that you’re getting quite a fond – it’ll be dark brown (well, mine was, anyways)

Start adding the broth a little bit at a time, scraping the browned bits and darkened spices, stirring to loosen the bottom of the pan. Once you get the two cups in, return the chicken and its accumulated juices. Raise the heat to high to get it to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer…If you’re doing chicken breasts, this won’t take very long, with thighs and drumsticks, it takes longer, at least 25 minutes. Your chicken thigh is safe to eat when it registers 75° C on a meat thermometer. When it gets to about 75° C, fish the meat out and set aside and raise the heat to high again and boil down to reduce to about 1 cup of liquid – it should be nice and thick. Add the shredded chicken. Then add the olives and capers and stir. Add the rest of the reserved sofrito and keep cooking. Then this is the most controversial bit of my recipe – I add a packet of the pre-cooked, parboiled rice (the kind that comes in a pouch you gotta squeeze apart to distribute it) Most recipes call for raw rice to be added to the pan right after the sofrito to toast – but I don’t like cooking rice because I always get it wrong. With the pre-cooked stuff, all you’re really doing is heating the rice through. Often these pouched rice comes in clumps, so just make sure you’re breaking up the clumps with your wooden spoon. Add the peas and stir until they thaw (you don’t really want to heat them). Add some cilantro as a garnish (you can also add a chopped green onion – do what you want, I’m not the police)

Oh, and enjoy. 

Cajun-style stew

I like Cajun cooking and like Mexican food, I haven’t really eaten a lot of Cajun food in London. I like gumbo and étouffée and when I lived in Chicago, I used to go to Heaven on Seven. I used to enjoy watching the daytime television appearances of Paul Prudhomme who was hilarious and personable and introduced Cajun cooking to me. The other sharp memory I have of Cajun cooking is Justin “I guarantee” Wilson, who I watched on PBS when I was a kid (as a kid, I thought is TV kitchen set looked like the Keebler Elves’ tree hollow) I got a couple of his books – used – at the Newberry Book Fair (unfortunately, none made it in the move to London)

So I thought I’d try my hand at Cajun cooking. I imagined this recipe up – and please, I understand, this is not authentic Cajun cooking. I’m sure that I’m breaking many rules whilst making this, which is why I’m calling this dish a Cajun-style stew – style letting you know that I am aware of my non-Cajun-ness.

Anyways, below is the recipe – just a quick thing: in London, andouille is hard to find, so I had to replace it with kiełbasa – something that’s way easier to find in London, ‘cuz we got lotsa Polish people running around this city.

This recipe isn’t the kind of recipe you chisel on stone – I improvised a lot of it as I was shopping at Sainsburys (on a Saturday, no less – so there were many screaming children up in there)

Ingredients:

  • 400 g of smoked sausage – for an authentic version of Cajun cooking, you’d want to use andhouille, but given that this is London, I found smoked Polish sausage, instead – chopped in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper – so Sainsburys was out of green bell pepper so this time I used yellow bell pepper -diced
  • I large yellow onion diced
  • 1 chili (green or red) diced
  • 1 rib of celery diced
  • 1 400g of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped finely
  • a bunch of flat-leafed parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 cup of fish broth
  • 200 g of cooked rice
  • ketchup to taste
  • hot sauce to taste – Tobasco is good, but I used Cholula hot sauce
  • Cajun seasoning to taste
  • 150 g of cooked cold water prawns
  • salt and pepper

So to assemble the dish, you first have to make a roux. Usually it’s made with flour and butter, but I’m trying to do something a little healthier, so I made the roux with oil and flour. It doesn’t cook the same way as you’d do it with butter (probably not as good), but it’s worth a try. Over a small flame, I dumped the oil and flour onto a heavy-bottomed pan, and stirred continuously, making a paste, working to get a nutty brown color. I kept a careful eye on the cooking so I won’t burn the shit. You can’t leave the pan, though, otherwise it can burn very quickly…Keep watch so you don’t destroy the roux (and set off your smoke detector)

Add the bell pepper, onion, celery, and chili and mix. Add some salt and some of the Cajun seasoning and stir. The roux will coat the vegetables. Cook for about 10 minutes, letting the vegetables sweat – you don’t have to let the vegetables brown. Add the fish broth and stir, scraping any sticky bits from the bottom of the pan (there shouldn’t be too much – it’s not a fond). Let the mixture simmer for a bit, before adding the chopped sausage.

Add the can of tomato and add some water – about half of the tomato tin and stir. Add some more Cajun seasoning and stir, raising the heat to high, and let it boil. Stir and let the stew thicken a bit. Add the parsley and green onion and let it boil for longer to let the stew thicken and to let the liquid cook away.

Once the stew gets thick, add the cooked rice, the hot sauce, and ketchup and keep stirring – it’s a lot of stirring, it’s not a dish from which you can walk away – you’ll want a very thick, reddish stew. It’ll smell great. The whole cooking process should take about 40 minutes, and at the last minute add the prawns, and remove from the heat, and stir a bit to heat the prawns through (you don’t want to cook them as they’ll get rubbery if you do)

Serve in bowls, hopefully you got some cornbread (we didn’t – this is London – the closest thing is corn muffins from Gail’s). Oh, and enjoy.

 

Cooking with Margaret Costa

The other night, I went to a cookbook club with a dear friend of mine. The ingenious idea behind the cookbook club is that the group is assigned a cookbook – in this case, it was Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book – and each of us was assigned a recipe. My friend had to do ratatouille and I did Costa’s recipe for peperonata. We then bring the dish to the club and share it with the other members, each of whom brings his/her own dish, as well. It’s a great, friendly way of learning about cooking, and even more importantly, talking about cooking. Everyone’s dish was wonderful and there were leftovers to take home.

Costa’s peperonata reminds me a bit of ratatouille or sausage and peppers, hold the sausage. It’s a very simple, vegetarian dish, and I chose it because it’s summer and I didn’t want to take the hot Tube with meat or dairy and possibly get people sick. I also work in an office with a tiny dorm fridge, and I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get the food in the fridge.

I won’t go into too much detail about how to make Costa’s dish – you should get the book to do that – but I’ll go over the basics. Essentially, it’s a side dish to be eaten hot or cold. For a serving of four, I chopped up 10 medium-sized tomatoes, 6 red bell peppers, two cloves of garlic (just two) and a little bit of salt. And that’s it. It was so simple, that I kept looking back to the recipe to see if maybe I was missing something. I almost threw pepper in it, but caught myself because there was no pepper in Costa’s recipe.

At the class we were discussing Costa’s recipes which are “of a time” – a bit like those Mad Men-style recipes that charm us with their silliness or weirdness. These are the kinds of recipes that are supposed to impress dinner party guests.

The peperonata went over well with the other guests, though I have to admit, it’s a hard dish to mess up.

Margaret Costa is a great food writer, and though the recipes are probably not dishes I’ll be cooking, I do own her book. I was one of a handful of people who knew who Costa was and was familiar with her book. When someone asked “who would buy this book now?” I raised my hand – I buy midcentury cookbooks because I love the kitsch/camp value. I also appreciate what cooking looked like when folks didn’t have access to many of the ingredients we take for granted now. Reading writers like Elizabeth David or Julia Child is an interesting education in social studies – particularly class and gender – what middle-class women were expected to do and how they were expected to do it.

The other we talked about was the dated format of the book. Unlike contemporary cookbooks, the recipes aren’t laid out with the ingredients listed in bullet points, nor are there gorgeous photographs of the dishes. Costa’s recipes are written far more casually and conversationally – she’ll write something like “heat the oil and throw in the onion and garlic which you have chopped up” – so as a warning, read the recipes in their entirety because the ingredient lists don’t indicate what you do with the ingredients, you have to read the instructions themselves (which are written out in paragraph form)

Along with the format, we also talked about the cover. There are a few editions of the book with the latest being a tasteful, grey cover. I own the goofy, campy cover as seen below:

Yup, that’s a dead bird, nestled among the veg and herbs

So the cover is so ugly that I had to get it – it’s hideous, especially the dead bird that’s taking centre stage. It looks stuffed (taxidermied) I find it funny that the food stylist thought that including a dead pigeon would make the book seem enticing.

I’ve made the dish before last night, though my version had anchovy and olives, and I’ve added parsley and pepper. The peperonata took on a sweet, summery taste (even though it’s firmly ensconced in Costa’s ‘autumn recipes’).