Some would argue that Arros con Pollo is the most well known dish in the Puerto Rican/Nuyorican pantheon . To us, it’s more popular than paella. To some, it’s just paella without the seafood and chorizos. Its saving grace is that, though it may take some time to prepare, you can fancy it up by adding sweet peas, pimento strips. assorted olive or whatever else you desire. Some rice with chicken recipes call for saffron, ground cumin or paprika to give the rice its color. We use tomato sauce and achiote.
As noted, our rendition calls for achiote and aji dulce, or sweet chili peppers. Note that the latter are not the common hot peppers associated with Mexican cuisine. Sweet peppers are just that, mild and sweet. They can be found in any Latino or Asian market. If you live in a major metropolitan area you can usually find it in your local supermarket.
Achiote is what we use for giving color to such dishes as yellow rice, pilaf rice, or any dish you want to enliven with a nice yellow-reddish hue. A simple method to prepare achiote is to cook 1 tablespoon annatto seeds, what we call the achiote (also found in Latino/Asian markets), in ½ cup olive oil or vegetable oil. You cook the seeds, stirring frequently, on low heat for 5 minutes. Be aware that if the flame is kept on high the seeds may crack and splatter. During cooking, the oil will turn a bright orange-red, The longer the seeds steep in oil, the darker the hue. Remove from heat, let cool and, using a small strainer, pour into a jar or container. Cover and refrigerate. That’s it. If you want more achiote, use more seeds.
Back in Spanish Harlem, arroz con pollo was normally served for a special occasion. But, in our family, we ate it frequently. It was one of the foodstuffs that kept the family vibrant and together.
ARROZ CON POLLO
(Rice with Chicken)
3 cups rice
1 3-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 ounces salted pork (also called fatback), rinsed and diced
(Note: you can substitute 3-4 strips of bacon, cooked and diced)
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
3 aji dulce (sweet chili peppers), seeded and chopped
½ cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth or bouillon
2 cups water
2 tablespoons achiote (see above)
1 8½-ounce can green peas (drained) or 1 10-ounce package frozen green peas
- Wash rice at least three times (until water is clear).
- Rinse chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Place peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt in a mortar and pound until crushed. Blend in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and vinegar.
- Rub chicken pieces thoroughly with the seasoning. In our clan, if we’re in a rush, we let chicken stand for 15 minutes just before cooking. Otherwise, we marinate it for several hours or overnight in the fridge.
- Heat remaining olive oil in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven and brown salted pork over moderate heat. Add onion, bell pepper and aji dulce. Sauté until onion is translucent.
- Add tomato sauce, chicken broth and olives. Stir to combine.
- Add chicken pieces plus 2 cups water. Mix, lower heat to moderate-low and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.
- Add the rice and achiote. Add more water to cover contents in pot, if necessary. Mix well and simmer, covered, on low heat until rice is tender (about 30) .
- Stir in peas. Cover and cook 10 minutes more.
Yield: 8 servings.