This has been quite a week here in Durham, NC. On Tuesday we had a rare earthquake, and then on Friday night hurricane Irene moved in. Though we were too far west to feel much of the impact of the storm, that didn't stop us from having a hurricane party. If you have never been through a hurricane, let me explain what its like. Hurricanes always bring in a mass of moist tropical air and it smells like the ocean. We only had 30 mph sustained winds and a few 50 mph wind gusts, and only about half an inch of rain. All in all very mild.
All that moist tropical air put me in the mood for Cuban food. We prepared Crab Empanadas, Dark and Stormy cocktails (black Bermuda rum and ginger beer with a squeeze of lime), and this dish, Arroz con Pollo. This is an easy dish to prepare (which is a good thing when you have been imbibing rum drinks all day) and is the ultimate in latin comfort foods. The rice is fragrant and rich, the chicken falls off the bone, and though it has a lot of spice in it, it's not what I would consider "spicy".
A couple notes: 1) make sure to use bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, boneless skinless does not work at all; 2) Use a really "hoppy" beer like an IPA (I used Magic Hat h I.P.A.) to give maximum flavor; 3) do not skip the Bijol powder (also known as achiote or ground annato) which not only colors the dish but gives a very distinct flavor. It can be found at any latin market and is absolutely essential to the dish ; 4) I like to serve the green peas separately because not everyone is a fan of peas, but I love the sweet burst of flavor they add.
Arroz con Pollo
6 strips of bacon
8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, seasoned lightly with salt pepper and ground cumin
2 cups chopped white onion
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
4 cloves of garlic. minced
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
12 oz. beer, preferably India Pale Ale (IPA)
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 tsp Bijol powder (also known as achiote or ground annato)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 cups rice (I prefer basmati)
1 cup frozen green peas
Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
In a large, heavy oven-proof skillet or paella pan, fry bacon over medium heat until crisp and fat has rendered. Remove bacon and reserve. Place seasoned chicken thighs in bacon fat, skin side down and increase heat to medium high. Brown very well (about 10 minutes) before flipping chicken to brown the non-skin side. Remove chicken from pan and reserve.
Add chopped peppers and onions and saute until onions are translucent, then add minced garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. Add bijol, bay leaf, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper and saute 1 minute. Add rice and stir briefly. Add beer and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add tomato sauce and chicken stock. Crumble bacon into pot and then return chicken thighs to pan. Bring mixture just to a boil, then cover with a heavy lid, or aluminum foil, and place dish in the oven. Bake 45-60 minutes until rice has absorbed all the liquid. Serve with cooked green peas.
Before baking, the Arroz con Pollo looks soupy.