Rice with chicken, Arroz Con Pollo, it doesn’t get much simpler than this. I’ve eaten this dish all around the world and regardless of which continent I’m on I can count on it being filling and delicious. I like to think about this dish as a quicker cheaper paella (I also make a version with sausage and peas). No seafood necessary, no fancy rice needed, just some chicken thighs, some stock, some veggies, and a little bit of time. Oh, and some kale because it’s important to eat your greens!
Set The Foundation
The trick to this Arroz Con Pollo recipe is the robust spice mixture. In fact, many of my weeknight dinners are based on a main spice mix that I use throughout the cooking to help build up flavors and create depth to dishes. Sometimes the spices get added all at once, sometimes their browned onto meat, and sometimes they aren’t added until the end. This recipe uses a bit of a combination of all of those tactics. Half of the spices get browned on the chicken, and the other half are used to flavor the rice and veggies.
Prep Is Life
As with all of my cooking the base of the recipe starts with getting everything all prepared. First things first I deal with the spices. This is always the step that ends up crowding my countertop with all of the plastic bottles and spice jars strewn everywhere. I like to get this done first and get all the various spice containers put away before I start dealing with chopping.
There are two key spices in this mix that really amp up the flavor. We get all of the ‘standard’ spices too, salt, pepper, garlic powder etc… but it’s the cumin and turmeric that are the stars of the show. Cumin is a beautiful flavor maker, it can be absolutely overpowering, but if used correctly it’s the base for so many amazing dishes. Turmeric has a unique flavor, but we’re mostly using it here for color. The ½ tsp. of turmeric is enough to give the rice a gorgeous yellow hue, something that sets this recipe apart and makes it a little more of a showstopper than the usual Arroz Con Pollo recipes out there.
A Little Strategy Goes A Long Way
After the spices are all mixed up I like to get all my aromatics and vegetables out the of the way. This goes pretty quick for this recipe since all of the peppers, onion, and garlic can get placed into the same prep bowl. For me there’s a little strategy here in getting all of the non-meat chopping and prepping out of the way first. That strategy is to be as lazy a cook as possible, and by not dealing with the raw chicken until after everything else is prepared I’ll only need to wash my knife, cutting board, and hands once.
Where’s the Acid?
Arroz Con Pollo can sometimes be a bit of a one note dish. There are certainly a lot of savory flavors in the dish, but traditionally there’s very little acidity added. Some recipes will add in olives and capers for a little boost of briney-ness but for me that makes the dish a little too salty. When developing this recipe I went through and tried a bunch of ways to add in just a little brightness to the dish. Adding in a little lime at the end overpowered the simple flavors. Putting a couple lemon slices into the pan before putting it into the oven gave some bitter flavors that I didn’t love. Then, I pulled a little bit of inspiration from taco-land and added in some orange juice to the liquid, and BAM, we had it figured out. Just the little bit of OJ adds in a tiny bit of acidity and sweetness, and really boosts the flavor of the dish. It doesn’t change the flavor of the Arroz Con Pollo, and you can’t taste the orange at all…but I highly highly recommend this step.
By now y’all are well aware of the YumSizzle formula. Heat (temperature, type) + Time = YumSizzle. We’re using a combination of a couple heat types in the recipe. First we use conduction heat to brown the chicken and cook the veggies. This is going to give us great base flavors to build the dish on. We’ll also be using convection heat in a couple of related ways. After the mixture is placed in the oven the liquid in the pan will continue cooking the chicken and the rice (and all the other components). This heat will last for a little bit helping to break down some of the proteins and other elements in the chicken thighs. In the end what we’re looking for is juicy chicken, and flavorful fluffy rice. Heat (stove top and oven, conduction and convection) + time = YumSizzle
Let’s Get To Cooking
So, with that in mind let’s get going with the actual cooking…enough with the prep work. Season the chicken liberally on both sides and get the pan up on medium to medium high heat. The first thing we’re doing is browning the chicken on both sides to set up the first layer of flavor. Some of the spices on the outside of the chicken will brown, release some oils and bloom, while the chicken will release some fat giving us some amazing flavor to cook the vegetables and rice in.
Once the chicken is brown it’s time to get the aromatics into the pan and use them to scrape the bottom of the pan. If you want to get a little experimental with this recipe this is an excellent time to do so. You could definitely add in some dried chillies, or char some of the onions and peppers before adding them in. If you like the idea of olives and capers this would be a good time to add them in, just keep in mind they’ll change the overall salt level of the dish.
Onion, jalapeno, garlic, and anaheim peppers… what could be bad about that? Once the vegetables have softened and cooked a bit, we’re ready for the tomato paste. This is an important step that some recipes leave out. The tomato paste adds a lot of richness and acidity to the dish, but don’t forget to cook it for a minute or two to get the raw metallic flavor out.
The Finishing Steps
Then you’re ready to go in with the rice. Cook it a little bit in the pan which gives a tiny bit of a nutty flavor to the rice, and gives it just a little leg up to soak up the liquid while cooking. Add in the liquid and the kale, bring it all up to a simmer, cover it, pop it in the oven, and YumSizzle.
It’s Worth It
That was a lot of writing for chicken and rice cooked together in a pan. There are definitely ways to make this dish a little more simple, but that’s no fun at all. A couple extra spices and a little bit of time and you get a dish worthy of serving to any guests.
Arroz Con Pollo