My mom is famous for her Arroz con Pollo. Down here, everyone’s mom knows how to make Arroz con Pollo, but my mom’s is the undisputed best ever. There are millions of ways to make this dish, with each country and region laying claim to a different “authentic” variety.
Every Arroz con Pollo starts out with a basic sofrito of diced onions, garlic, bell pepper and spices sauteed in olive oil. Some people make their dish the traditional Spanish way where the rice ends up a bit dry and fluffy. I hate this version. My mom makes hers in the Puerto Rican style, which is very creamy and a bit soupy. Like a Latin risotto. Her secret ingredient? She adds a beer to the pot just before cooking the rice. It plumps the rice up and adds a nice zing to the pot. This recipe reveals her other secret tricks, such as soaking the rice in warm saffron water. I hope she won’t mind.
Arroz con Pollo is the Latin American version of meatloaf. Or pot roast. Or mac & cheese. Everyone’s got a recipe and everyone swears that theirs is the most authentic and the most delicious. Well, they’re wrong. My mom’s recipe is the most delicious. It just is. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.
Mom’s Arroz con Pollo
3 cups arborio rice
2 cups warm water
big pinch of saffron threads
1 tsp. annatto powder (If you can’t find this, just omit or substitute 1 tsp. sweet paprika)
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large red or orange bell pepper, finely chopped
2 slices dry rubbed, center cut bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used Wellshire Farms brand Black Forest variety) (optional – you can also sub black forest ham)
2 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
8 oz. canned tomato sauce (not marinara)
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or same amount chicken breasts)
1 pilsner-style beer, such as Corona
4 cups chicken stock
juice of 1/2 lime
salt to taste
Place the rice in a medium-sized bowl. Stir the saffron threads and annatto powder into the warm water, then add the water to the bowl and give it a quick stir. Set aside.
Make the sofrito. Set a large (7.5 qt is best), heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic, onions, bell pepper and bacon and cook for 5 minutes, or until the bacon fat begins to render out a bit. Stir in the cumin, sweet paprika and salt and continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and the pepper is soft.
Once the sofrito is done, add the tomato sauce and chicken to the pot, stirring to ensure the chicken is coated, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, turning the chicken over every few minutes.
When the chicken is mostly cooked through, add the beer and chicken stock and raise the heat to high. When the pot begins to boil, add the entire contents of the bowl with the rice. This may seem like a lot of liquid, but it’ll thicken up and the final consistency will be like a very wet risotto.
Bring the liquid back to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in the lime juice, salt to taste and let the pot sit for 5 – 10 minutes, uncovered.
Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread or crackers. You can also garnish with jarred pimentos or pimento-stuffed olives (optional).