I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

Arroz con pollo means chicken-and-rice, but the colorful flavors and ingredients of the popular Nicaraguan dish are lost in this very literal translation.  Also called arroz a la valenciana (probably a nod to Spanish colonizers and paella) arroz con pollo is a mixture of the title ingredients, plus ham, sausage, pimento-stuffed olives, capers, peas, carrots, and bell peppers. Topped with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese and often served with buttered toast, it’s one of my favorite things to eat; maybe it’ll become one of yours, too.

Serves 8 to 12
This is a somewhat involved recipe, but it makes piles of food; great for a big family, a casual dinner party, or days’ worth of leftovers. The recipe can be easily cut in half if the yield seems excessive.

Some shortcuts: Rather than cooking carrots with rice, add 2 cups of frozen peas-and-carrots to the mixture.  Buy a rotisserie chicken and low-sodium chicken broth instead of poaching your own fresh chicken pieces.

For the Chicken:
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces or 1 4- to 5-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 large onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1 green bell pepper, seeded and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons black peppercorns

– Place chicken pieces in large soup pot or Dutch oven. Season with salt and cover with cold water (chicken should be submerged 2 inches). Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is cooked through (temperature should read 160˚F), 30 to 35 minutes.

– Transfer chicken to large bowl. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and bones and shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. The chicken may be poached one day in advance: To store, add 3 cups broth to shredded chicken, cool to room temperature, cover with plastic, and refrigerate.

– Strain broth and reserve. Discard solids.

For the Rice:
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups long-grain white rice
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups chicken broth

– Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the onion and salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice, carrots, and tomato paste. Add broth and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until most of the liquid has evaporated and you can see small bubbles on the surface (see How to Make Rice).  Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Fluff rice with chopsticks or fork and remove from heat.

For the Arroz con Pollo:
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces Lil’ Smokies or Kielbasa sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup ketchup
Shredded chicken (see above)
¼ pound deli ham, chopped
1/3 cup capers, drained
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed olives, sliced
1 ½ cups frozen peas
Cooked rice (see above)

– Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Add sausage and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.

– Add onion and bell pepper to now empty skillet and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomato paste, chicken, ham, capers, olives, peas, and rice, stirring to combine thoroughly. Cook, stirring occasionally, to allow flavors to meld, 10 to 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt.

– Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and white buttered toast.