For the largest minority in the United States, October is a month in which to celebrate Hispanic and Latino culture and the contributions that Hispanics and Latinos have made to this country. Perhaps our greatest gift to American culture is that sazón that we have injected into the national palate. Many Americans have become enamored with Latin American dishes and ingredients, and it makes many Latinos and Hispanics proud to see people from other cultures serving our traditional dishes at restaurants and out of food trucks. In addition to being Hispanic Heritage Month, October is also the time of year when the temperature drops, leading chefs and home cooks to think about warming comfort foods, and nothing says comfort food to a hungry Latino like a plate of arroz con pollo.
Literally meaning “chicken with rice”, arroz con pollo is a dish that is as varied as the the many countries that comprise Latin America, and no two abuelas (grandmothers) will ever agree on a way to prepare it. Chicken pieces are slowly cooked together with white rice in a sauce that can be flavored with saffron, achiote, or even cilantro, until the liquid evaporates and the rice becomes very soft. It is the quintessential Latin American one-pot meal, and to prepare it most authentically one needs the quintessential Latin American pot.
Often referred to as the “workhorse of the Latin kitchen”, the caldero is perhaps the most important piece of equipment in a Latin American kitchen. It closely resembles a Dutch oven but is made out of cast aluminum rather than cast iron, making it much easier to transport, and is typically not enameled on the inside although modern versions can contain teflon or silicone coatings. Like cast iron frying pans in the southern United States, calderos need to be seasoned before using and are continuously seasoned over time to create a coating that prevents food from sticking and adds an unmistakable character to dishes. The tight fitting lid on a caldero also makes it the ideal vessel for long stewing and braising, as well as for steaming rice.
Chef George Duran created this recipe for Moroccan style arroz con pollo for IMUSA, the number one manufacturer of calderos and practically any other piece of equipment needed for preparing Latin American cuisine, from tortilla presses to paella pans. IMUSA calderos can be purchased at many home goods stores in areas with sizeable Latin communities (Walmart, Costco, and BJ’s carry them) or on their website, which also has instructions for seasoning a caldero for the first time. While this dish can easily be made with a regular pot, purchasing a caldero is an inexpensive investment that will not only give this dish an authentic flavor and texture but will also become an indispensable piece of equipment for making dishes from practically any cuisine.
Moroccan Style Arroz con Pollo
By George Duran
2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground pepper
2 tsp. salt
3 Tblsp. olive oil
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ C. medium or long grain rice
1 C. golden raisins
1 C. kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 C. chicken stock
2 bay leaves
Juice of half a lemon
Finely chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish
Mix first 6 ingredients in a large bowl and combine with 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Pat chicken thighs dry and coat evenly with spices in bowl. Heat your IMUSA silicone caldero on medium-high heat and add 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Cook both sides of each chicken thigh until golden brown, remove and set aside.
In the same IMUSA caldero, sauté the onions and garlic until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in rice, raisins, olives and chicken stock. Add bay leaves and nestle each chicken thigh on top of rice. Allow to come to a simmer, cover and cook on low for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and sprinkle lemon juice on chicken and rice. Serve two thighs on top of rice and garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.
Makes 4 servings