Thursday, January 25, 2024

Weekly Cooking Report January 25: Arroz Con Pollo

OK, this week what looks simple is actually a little complex due to two stages of it, but I have faith in you! Arroz Con Pollo is a classic dish that brings to mind Mexico and the American southwest. I have NO IDEA how accurate it is to actual Mexican food, but this version is yummy and comforting and warm on cold winter nights, so that's what we're making 

This recipe from food network is my go-to for this, which may not speak too well to its authenticity but there you go. She says this makes four servings but we always end up with closer to 6-8; if you know you're feeding more people, get a larger bird. 

Of course, you may have to get a larger bird anyway. Trying to find a 3.5-4lb chicken as opposed to a 6-8lb one can be hard in today's megamarts. Given how long the chicken cooks anything you get under 8 lbs is going to be cooked through. If you don't want the hastle of breaking down the bird you can buy either pre-broken birds or just a 3-4 lb collection of parts (thighs would be my choice, drumsticks works)

Shopping for this is the aforementioned bird-of-varying-size (not a lesser known Figurine of Wonderous Power), an onion, a couple of bell peppers, some garlic (which ideally you have in one of the pre-minced or pre-diced jars because they work fine), some long grain rice (rice gets surprisingly complicated but as long as what you have isn't sushi rice you're probably OK) and some tomato sauce. 

You also need a salt, black pepper, cumin, cayenne, and powdered garlic, which if you have one of those spinning spice racks you already have. But if you instead want to by any sort of Mexican or Tex-Mex seasoning blend those will all work too. Not caring if you're authentic opens a lot of options. Put the seasonings into a gallon plastic bag, or bowl honestly. You just need a place to mix it with the chicken. 

So the first complex bit is breaking down the bird: assuming you didn't go with the pre cut option. It's a few more steps than butterflying the duck, and can be intimidating, but it does let you play with knives, so give it a shot. The one minute instruction video is here. Given how large the breasts are compared to the other body parts I will often then cut them in half widthwise, so I end up with one slightly longer wedge and a kinda cube. The recipe calls for the skin to be pulled off, but I don't. Do as you will. 

I know, precision. 

Once you break down the bird toss it in with the spices and mix till the spices are evenly over the bird. Now is the time to chop up your peppers into big pieces and dice your onions into smaller pieces. The big pepper pieces make it look pretty. 

Then heat the oil in your skillet. You want the oil the 'shimmering', which is one of those things that you'll know when you see it. Then put the chicken into the pan, making sure there's space between each piece. This may mean doing the chicken in two batches. 

NOW HERE IS THE TRICKY PART: how long the chicken takes depends on so many factors that you just have to keep an eye on it, occasionally trying gently to lift a piece with a fork. If it freely comes up it's ready, but you can let it sit a little longer if you want more browning. If it sticks, leave it unless it starts to look deeply brown. it's one of those weird things in science where the sticking to the pan thing is nature trying to help you out. When you flip it over it should be about this brown. This could be anything from 3 to 6 minutes per side. You're just browning it - it's gonna cook the rest of the way later.

Once these are done on both sides, move these to a plate, do the other half of the chicken, move them to the plate, and then toss in the onions, peppers, and some salt. Turn the heat down a little, and stir occasionally until everything softens. That'll be about 7 minutes, and stir it once every 30 seconds to minute. No stress, but don't wander. Once that's done, toss in the rice and garlic, stir it for one minute, and then add all the fluids. Then nestle the chicken pieces inside the water/sauce/stock/rice/veggie mix. it will look like this 

Bring to a boil, then take the heat down to medium/low (about 3 if you have a 1-10 scale on your cooktop). Cover and leave it for 30-35 minutes. Take it off heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. 

Serve to a grateful family. It's a protein, starch, and veggie all in one skillet. And if you buy the broken down chicken parts the only complex technique is browning the bird parts. Give it a shot! 

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