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. 

Author: Peter Majda

I'm a MA graduate in English literature from DePaul University. I earned my BA in English literature from the University of Illinois. I completed my MA thesis on post-WWII black British literature, and am currently working on my MFA in creative writing. My favorite authors include Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Julia Child, David Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Tan, Harper Lee. I read about two-three books a week. I read mainly essay collections, nonfiction, humor. I am Chicago-raised, but based in the UK.

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