A flamboyant Latin-American answer to the Spanish paella, the festive one-pot treat known as arroz con pollo is adored across Latin America and the Spanish Caribbean. This Cuban iteration was a famous late nineteenth-century dish served at Casa Arana, a stately restaurant located at the mouth of the Almendares River near Havana's emblematic seventeenth-century Chorrera Tower. According to novelists and historians, the chicken rice named after the tower was a big hit among Spanish colonial officers in the last dying days of Spain's reign over Cuba. Now often resurrected at restaurants and eaten at homes for a late Sunday lunch, the deliciously soupy arroz features chicken and medium-grain Valencia-type rice brightened with saffron. It is moistened with broth, wine, and always a splash of Cuban beer, and decorated with peas and strips of roasted red pepper. What a great dish to bring to a potluck!
3 pounds (1.4 kg) bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1/3 cup (75 ml) sour orange juice, or an equal mix of lime and orange juice
1 tablespoon minced or pressed garlic, plus 2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) annatto oil (see recipe below)
1 cup (110 g) chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup (75 g) chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup (75 g) chopped red bell pepper
1 cup (180 g) chopped seeded tomato
1/2 cup (120 ml) dry white wine
6 cups (1.4 L) chicken stock or water
3 cups (585 g) medium-grain white rice
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 cup (120 ml) lager-style beer
2 tablespoons capers in brine
1 (10-ounce / 280-g) box thawed frozen peas
1 cup (90 g) thinly sliced roasted red pepper
In a large bowl, combine the chicken thighs, sour orange juice, minced garlic, cumin, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Marinate the chicken for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. In a large, wide pot, heat the annatto oil over medium heat. Working in batches, add the chicken, skin side down, and cook, turning once, for 7 to 8 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove to a plate and set aside.
In the same pot, combine the onion, green pepper, and red pepper and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, or until soft. Add the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomato and white wine and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to cook o the alcohol a bit. Pour in 2 cups (480 ml) of the stock and return the chicken to the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the rice and saffron and continue to cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Pour in another 2 cups (480 ml) of the stock and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the final 2 cups (480 ml) of the stock and the beer and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the capers, peas, and roasted red pepper. Turn o the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste.
2 tablespoons achiote seeds
1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the achiote seeds and olive oil and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Strain the seeds out of the oil and keep the oil in a jar with a tight lid. Annatto oil can be stored for up to a month as a seasoning for yellow rice, meat, and poultry dishes.
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