Arroz con Pollo (Puerto Rican chicken with rice)

It seems as though every culture has its own version of Chicken and Rice and Puerto Rico is no different.  As a child, my older sister and I spent whole summers, Christmas breaks and Easters with my mother’s family.  Our father spent a huge amount of time up and down the Amazon working on the genetics of a certain tropical fish in order to create his own strain.  So as the weeks before he departed loomed before us my mother would start making noises to the effect of “I’m not staying here.  Girls, what do you think if we go to Puerto Rico? Jackson, (that’s what she called my father), vamos a Puerto Rico. Girls? GIRLS! I want you to check your gloves and make sure they all match.  Alicia, make sure yours are clean.”  And off we went.  We loved Pan American!  The flight attendants were so glamorous and they would give us hot chocolate.  Until my younger brother and sister came along, we were the only children in my grandparents house.  And, boy, did we love it.   Aunts and uncles spoiled us so we always had crayons and coloring books, china tea sets, wonderful dolls and books.  Oh, the books!  A few days after we arrived, for every visit, my aunt, the one who adored my older sister and looked upon me as though I was the ultimate bad seed, would take us to “our” bookstore in old San Juan.  Libreria Campos was three stories of gorgeous books with glossy hardwood floors and an old-fashioned elevator. There, a gloved elevator attendant closed the solid brass door to the elevator before we lumbered up to our desired floor.  I remember I would be left alone in the young reader/children’s section as my sister and aunt went off whispering, arm in arm… 1960’s style bff’s.  After we had chosen our heart’s desire, the transaction would be finalized at the massive, dark polished wooden counter.  Our books would be wrapped in their signature green paper then tied neatly with twine.  They were beautiful.  Every trip back to the house left me feeling a little as though I had somehow been tricked.  In the taxi cab I’d be well into my one, single Nancy Drew thriller when I’d look over and there would be my sister sitting smugly with something like the entire collection of Anne of Green Gables.  I received one book, she got eight.  It just smacked of wrong.  Oh, well.  Afternoons found the two of us having tea parties with our dolls beneath our grandparent’s tall, dark, mahogany beds where we sat up straight while pretending to be aristocratic ladies.  Chicken was the star of most of our meals and they, too, were a ritual.  Our dinners were somewhat dressy affairs.  At 5:00 p.m. sharp we were given baths, changed into little dresses and hair was neatly combed.  We were allowed to watch a few episodes of Felix the Cat in Spanish and then we dined… alone.  The grownups never dined with the children.  And that’s where the chicken and rice comes in.  Always perfectly seasoned, aromatic and glistening with olive oil coated capers, olives and peppers.  It was just heaven.  The traditional Puerto Rican accompaniment was, and is, red beans and pumpkin, either in the beans or steamed separately.  Nothing makes Puerto Rican adults happier than children asking for more.  And there was always, always more!

Arroz con Pollo, Puerto Rican Chicken and Rice

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium to large onions, finely chopped
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons capers, well-drained
  • 3-4 good tablespoons green olives with pits
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 6-7 fresh culantro leaves (Here in South Florida they can be had at all leading grocery stores. If unavailable, cilantro makes a suitable replacement.)
  • 1 whole cut-up chicken or which ever chicken parts suit your fancy, 6-8 pieces.  I always cut off all fat and the skin.  But that’s just me.
  • 1 16 oz. bag white rice, I always use medium grain but if you like long grain, have at it.
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt or more to taste

 

  1. In a heavy Dutch oven or large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add chopped onions and cook until almost clear, stirring often.
  2. Add garlic, oregano and bell peppers and cook until almost cooked through, still stirring.
  3. Add capers, green olives, tomato paste and culantro.  Stir well.
  4. Add chicken pieces, cook just to brown outside.
  5. Add rice, stir well to coat the rice grains with other ingredients, add water and salt.
  6. Stir so rice is equally distributed, tomato paste broken up and dissolved etc.
  7. Bring water to a boil, cover pot and drop heat to simmer.
  8. Cooking time varies depending on size of chicken pieces and whether they’re boned or bone-in.  Just keep your eye on it and check the pieces to see if they’re done from time to time.  Small pieces of boned chicken may take 45-60 minutes.  Large pieces with bone make take 1 1/2-2 hours until the chicken is tender and almost falling off the bone.

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