Arroz con pollo or rice with chicken is a Spanish and Latin American classic – it’s similarity to it’s more famous Iberian seafood relative paella cannot be disputed – whose origins remain contested; between imperial Spain and its former colonies the Dominican Republic, Saint Martin and Puerto Rico.
Whatever the truth about this delicious dish arroz con pollo probably grew out of generations of trading; the rice from Asia, the chicken from India and the saffron from the fertile land of the ancient Phoenicians. The truth is that food history, by its very nature, is indelibly intertwined with the machinations of the state, commerce and the constant movement of people. Furthermore it’s this constant change and renewal that gives food its vigour, its life, each plate containing within it the past and cultures of all those who came before it. Something to think about next time you walk into a fast food joint. But back to the food. Get back to the food.
One whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper or 2 sweet red peppers, seeded and sliced in 1 cm strips, lengthwise
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 to 1 tsp saffron threads
a pinch of red chilli flakes
500 g peeled, seeded and diced fresh tomatoes, or 725 g diced canned tomatoes (including their juices)
625 ml water
125 ml dry white wine
400 g Spanish bomba, round or arborio rice
80 g pitted green olives (preferably pimento-stuffed) sliced
110 g fresh or frozen green peas
In a bowl season the chicken with the oregano, a teaspoon of salt and black pepper. Rub it in well, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F.
In a casserole pot or paella pan heat the oil over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken pieces in a single layer, in batches if necessary, so they aren’t crowded into the pan, until they are well browned on all sides. Once the first batch is done, transfer the chicken to a plate and brown the remaining pieces.
When the second batch of chicken is done, remove the pieces to a plate with the others and drain off all but two tablespoons of fat or oil left in the pan. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to wilt. Add the garlic, saffron, red chilli flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Continue cooking until the onions and peppers are wilted and soft.
Add the tomatoes, water and wine to the pan. Arrange the chicken in the pan, skin side up, cover the pot tightly and bake for 30 minutes in the oven.
Remove the pan from the oven and add the rice, pushing it into the gaps between the chicken pieces. Throw the olives over the chicken and liquid and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir gently to even out the rice in the pan. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven, add the peas and cover. Cook until the rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid and it’s tender.
Remember this is a recipe not an instruction manual so to check if everything is done. So this by lifting the lid to see whether the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. A little extra liquid doesn’t matter as it will be absorbed while the dish is resting. When done, remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes, covered, before serving.