Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cuban Arroz con Pollo (Chicken & Rice)

Cuban recipe for arroz con pollo
My Mom makes the best Cuban chicken and rice ("arroz con pollo") on the planet. Honestly. And I'm not saying that just because she's my Mom. Go ask anyone who's had the pleasure of tasting her arroz con pollo and I'll bet you a case of your favorite hot sauce that they'll say the same thing. She's more than happy to share the "recipe," but there's only one problem: She doesn't use one. The ingredients are always the same, or so she claims: I've sometimes seen her squeeze lemon juice & the spices over the chicken and let it sit for 30 minutes before browning, but NOT always. Furthermore, she's never measured anything and yet she instinctively knows how to adjust the ingredient amounts and ratios regardless of how large a batch she's cooking. She relies on her decades of experience and always serves up a hearty feast.

One of my goals in life is to make an arroz con pollo that's as delectable and blissfully soul-satisfying as my Mom's. To that end, I practice as often as I can, using the ingredient list I've pried from my Mom and relying more on my senses than on precise measurements. Lately I've started taking the time to measure and document everything, including feedback on the results, and have used that data to tweak the recipe. Unfortunately, my Mom lives too far away to serve as a taste-tester, but if the feedback I've gotten from others is accurate, my Cuban arroz con pollo is pretty darn good, even if it's not exactly my Mom's.

Although my Mom uses a whole chicken cut into parts, I prefer to use thighs and legs exclusively. You could certainly use only breasts or even use boneless skinless parts, but I think you lose some flavor that way. Unless you consume NO alcohol, do not substitute water for the beer, because it's essential to the flavor of the dish. If you don't consume alcohol and need a substitute, I recommend low-sodium chicken broth. The following recipe serves 6 to 8, and leftovers taste even better the next day.

cooking arroz con pollo Cuban chicken & rice
Ready to serve
Approx. 2 lbs chicken parts
2 Tbs olive oil (I use Spanish olive oil)
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika ("Pimentón")*
1 tsp salt (I use kosher)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped (OR 1 can diced tomatoes, 15-16oz, undrained)
Pinch of saffron
2 cups white rice (Arroz Carolina if available)
1 bottle of beer (nothing fancy or dark or too hoppy: a classic pilsner is a good choice)
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas, thawed (OR 1 can Green Giant very young small green peas, 15oz, drained)
2 whole Spanish fire-roasted red peppers aka "pimientos," cut into strips about 2" long and 1/2" wide**

*If unavailable, you can substitute other sweet (not spicy) paprika
**If unavailable, you can substitute Italian roasted red peppers or regular bottled roasted red peppers.

Heat the olive oil & bay leaves for a couple of minutes over medium-high heat in a very large, deep lidded skillet, Dutch oven or paella pan. Add chicken, season on both sides with oregano, cumin, paprika, salt & pepper, and brown on both sides. Add onion, garlic & bell pepper and saute until softened & onion is translucent. Add tomatoes & saffron and saute until the tomatoes break down (or 3-5 minutes if using canned). Stir in rice and saute for about 2 minutes, until all grains are coated and turning milky-white. Slowly pour in the beer & water, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook at a very low simmer until the liquid is absorbed (about 35 to 40 minutes). Uncover, stir, taste for balance and add more salt/pepper if desired. Especially if using boneless chicken, it's ok for the chicken to be fall-apart tender. ***Note: If the rice has formed a crispy golden "crust" on the bottom of your pan, you have achieved Nirvana (trust me on this, the crust is quite tasty and highly desirable; when we were kids my sister & I used to fight over who would get the "raspa" or crust).

chicken and rice When the liquid has been fully absorbed, gently fold in the peas and cook on low until heated through (1-2 minutes). You can either fold in the roasted red pepper pieces at the same time as the peas for a "rustic" presentation when served on individual plates, or for "family style" service, arrange the arroz con pollo on a large serving platter with the pieces of chicken on top of the rice and the roasted red peppers decoratively placed on the exposed rice.

Zestfully yours,


  1. By far, this is the BEST Arroz con Pollo recipe! Thank your Mother, and thank you for sharing Gloria!! It is a keeper!!

    1. You are most welcome, and thank YOU for your effusive praise - I'm blushing! My Mom will be thrilled when I tell her what you said :-) Thanks again for trying my recipe & taking the time to comment, and your words have made my day!
      Zestfully yours,