Arroz con Pollo is a chicken and rice dish popular in Spain and Latin America. While its origin is difficult to trace, it is likely an adaptation of the Paella, a staple Spanish (Valencian) rice dish dating as far back as the 15th century. As with many dishes stemming from Spain’s exploration and colonization, Arroz con Pollo deliciously marries both worlds; Spanish rice and technique combine with ingredients native to the Americas (namely tomatoes and peppers).
There are dozens of variations on Arroz con Pollo, and I fully expect a few comments below lamenting the fact that my version is not exactly like abuelita’s recipe. It’s understandable that this dish evokes some fairly raw emotion, as it is closely aligned with what I’d consider comfort food. I find that there is beauty in creating a personal version of an oft-tweaked recipe; I think that personalization is part of being human, and the many variations of this dish stand as a testament to this concept.
Some common extra add-ins for Arroz con Pollo include pimento-stuffed green olives, beer, and/or ham. Its flavoring paste, known as sofrito, is also the subject of some debate; some call for tomatoes, others eschew them, and still others use an added fat like lard or olive oil.
While Spanish Arroz con Pollo recipes call for saffron, recipes in the Caribbean and Americas employ a different method to give the rice a golden hue: annatto oil, sometimes called achiote oil. Annatto is a flavorless seed that is used as natural food coloring (eagle-eyed readers may remember it from my Kare Kare recipe a couple years back).
To make annatto oil, you simply toast some seeds in oil – but only for a moment, since any longer will turn the seeds black and impart a bitter taste – then steep the seeds in the oil until cool. This step is not required, but is worth the extra effort if you have access to annatto seeds.
Arroz con Pollo (Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet)
Sofrito (yields ~4 cups)
1 large Spanish/sweet onion, quartered (about 2 cups)
4 roma tomatoes, quartered (about 2 cups)
1 spicy chile pepper (habanero, jalapeno, ají dulce), stems and seeds removed, more to taste
10 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro, stems included
1/2 red bell pepper (see note below)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp coriander seeds (or 1/4 tsp ground coriander)
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and pepper
1.5 cups white rice (bomba, calasparra, or arborio rice preferred, see note below)
3 cups chicken stock, room temperature
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 red bell pepper, cubed
salt and pepper to taste
1. Make the annatto oil. Heat the annatto seeds in the oil over medium-low heat until just starting to sizzle, about three minutes. Remove from heat and allow to steep until the oil cools to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Strain the seeds from the oil and discard the seeds.
2. While the oil cools, make the sofrito. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor, and process until uniform. Divide into four 1-cup portions; we’ll only need one cup for today’s recipe. Freeze the rest for future projects (see note below the recipe).
3. Warm the annatto oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 2 minutes. Place the chicken thighs in the oil, skin-side-down; cook until brown and crispy, about 6 minutes, then turn and brown the other side. Remove from the skillet and set aside; reduce heat to medium.
4. Add 1 cup of the sofrito to the pan. Saute, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sofrito takes on an oily texture, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stock, stir to combine, then bring to a simmer while stirring constantly. Add the chicken pieces and any accumulated juices, then scatter the peas and bell pepper over the top. Cover (leave a little space for air to escape), reduce heat to low, and simmer until the chicken is tender and the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed; serve with cilantro and lime wedges.
*** You are welcome to buy two halves of a red pepper, but I built this recipe so that half of the pepper goes into the sofrito, while the other half goes into the rice. If you’re using leftover sofrito, simply buy a small red pepper and use the whole thing!
*** I prefer to use paella (bomba, calasparra) or risotto (arborio) rice for this recipe. While typical long-grain or calrose rices will work, they have a propensity to get a little mushy. Paella and risotto rices are a bit creamier and hold their texture better. Paella rice can absorb a bit more liquid than the other varieties, so consider using 4.5 cups of stock (or only 1.25 cups of rice) for this recipe. If you’re going to use long grain or calrose rice, consider toasting it a bit in a separate pan with some oil over medium heat until it turns golden brown before adding the rice during step #4. This will allow help prevent the rice from getting mushy.
*** If you don’t have access to annatto seeds, but still want a yellow tint to your rice, you can use saffron. Add 1 pinch of crushed saffron (about 10 threads) when you add the stock in step #4 below; skip step #1, and use plain avocado or coconut oil in step #3.
This sofrito is an easy way to add tons of flavor to your favorite dishes. Add it to soups and stews, chilis, or even your fried eggs. It freezes really well; lots of people like to freeze it in ice cube trays for convenience. If you have access to culantro, a heartier and more pungent version of cilantro, add a small handful of it (about 6 leaves) to your sofrito for some added zing.