In the 1950s, when poultry was more expensive than either fish or beef, Arroz con Pollo was the preferred dish for special occasions and Sunday family gatherings.
Arroz con pollo is particularly popular in Cuba and Latin America because of the Spanish Moors’ 700 years of global influence. With the Moorish invasion of Spain in the early 700s, the Moors gained easy access to the coast and Northern Africa. With access to the coast, the Moorish influence could sail freely. With Northern African control, distinct spices like saffron, cumin, and coriander were easily gotten. The Moorish culture’s focus on color was brought to Cuba, too.
Since this time, Arroz con Pollo has become a popular dish in countries such as Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Saffron is the pivotal ingredient in arroz con pollo, adding its unique nutty flavor and aroma as well as its vibrant yellow color. The chicken is then cooked with sofrito and broth. Sofrito adds color and texture to the dish with colorful and flavorful vegetables like onion, red bell pepper, garlic, and tomato. Beer and white wine are also used to add flavor to the broth.
Cooking an authentic Cuban chicken with rice is a well-timed process. Starting with the marination of the chicken up to six hours before cooking, the mixture of vinegar, cumin, oregano, and pepper serves as a flavorful base of spices. It’s a one-pot meal that’s still perfect for feeding a crowd. Carmen Calzada has shared her family’s recipe in the book ‘The Cuban Table’ by Ana Sofía Peláez. The ingredients and cooking directions are listed below.
Ingredients: Serves 8-10
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium green bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded, and cut in rounds
- 3 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups water
- 12 oz bottle of pilsner-style beer, divided
- ½ lb asparagus, rinsed and trimmed
- 1 medium yellow onion, grated
- 1 cup jarred pimientos, drained and sliced
- 1 cup petit pois or English peas, fresh or frozen
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled and mashed to a paste
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 cube chicken bouillon
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground achiote seeds or Bijol seasoning
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 3½ cups Valencia or similar short-grain rice, rinsed
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in an ovenproof, 6-quart heavy pot or Dutch oven until hot but not smoking.
- Add the green pepper to the oil.
- Working in batches, brown the chicken on both sides, 2–3 minutes per side.
- Set aside the browned chicken and repeat with remaining pieces.
- Remove the green pepper and discard.
- To deglaze the pot, add the wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits.
- Return the browned chicken to the pot.
- Add the remaining ingredients except for the rice, half the beer, and part of the pimientos to add at the end. Bring to a simmer.
- Stir in the rice and simmer over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pot from direct heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and set in the preheated oven. Bake until the rice is tender but still moist, about 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and immediately pour in the remaining beer.
- Garnish with the reserved pimientos.