Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

September 28, 2021

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Soupy rice and chicken

There were two main versions of arroz con pollo in Cuba in the 1950s. One was a fluffy, dry dish made with long-grain rice, the other a soupy one made with short-grain rice. In both, the rice and chicken were cooked together, and garnished with canned asparagus, peas and pimientos. This is Maricel E. Presilla’s own version.

6 whole chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks), skin removed

For the seasoning

6 large garlic cloves
1 tsp. (5 ml) ground cumin
¼ tsp. (1.25 ml) dried oregano
¼ tsp. (1.25 ml) ground allspice
¼ c. (60 ml) juice of 1 bitter orange or 2 tbsp. (30 ml) fresh lime juice
1 tsp. (5 ml) salt

For the dish

1½ c. (375 ml) Valencia-style medium grain rice (preferably Bomba or Montsia Extra)
¼ c. (60 ml) achiote-infused extra-virgin olive oil
3 oz. (90 g) slab bacon or Virginia ham, diced (about ½ c./125 ml)
8 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1½ c./375 ml)
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded, deveined and finely chopped (about 2/3 c./160 ml)
2 tsp. (10 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp. (5 ml) dried oregano
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. (1.25 ml) freshly ground black pepper or to taste
1 c. (250 ml) homemade light tomato sauce or canned tomato sauce
1 c. (250 ml) lager beer
4 c. (1 L) homemade or store-bought chicken broth
1 c. (250 ml) green olives, such as Manzanilla (about 35), pitted
¼ c. (60 ml) capers, drained
½ c. (125 ml) water
2½ tsp. (12.5 ml) salt or to taste
6 white or green asparagus spears, trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise on the bias and blanched or 6 canned spears, halved crosswise on the bias
½ c. (125 ml) fresh or thawed frozen peas
1 8-oz. (250 g) can pimientos or 1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, cored, seeded and cut into ¼-inch- (0.5-cm-) wide strips

Rinse the chicken legs and pat dry with paper towels. Put the legs in a large bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle or a food processor, grind or process the garlic, cumin, oregano, allspice, orange juice and salt to a paste. Rub the legs with the paste. Let sit for 2 hours or for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, tightly covered with plastic wrap.

Wash the rice in a medium bowl and drain well in a sieve or strainer.

Heat the oil in a heavy 5-quart (5-L) pot over medium heat. Add the bacon or ham and sauté until lightly golden, 3 minutes. Scrape the seasoning paste from the chicken legs and reserve. Working in batches, add the legs to the pot and sauté until golden, turning occasionally, 5 minutes on each side. Remove to a platter. Leave the bacon or ham in the pot.

Add the garlic to the pot and sauté until golden, 20 seconds. Add the onion and sauté until light golden, 6 minutes. Add the bell pepper, cumin, oregano, bay leaf and black pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and reserved seasoning paste, and simmer for 8 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat well, for 2 minutes. Add the beer and continue simmering for 2 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, olives and capers and let simmer in the sauce to absorb flavours for 5 minutes. Pour in the water and salt, and mix well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. The liquid will not be fully absorbed.

Stir gently with a kitchen fork to fluff the rice and mix all the ingredients. Reduce the heat as low as possible and cook, tightly covered, for 15 minutes. If using fresh asparagus, place on top of the rice before covering. If using canned, add to heat through at the end of cooking, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the peas and the pimientos or roasted peppers and fluff the rice with a fork.

Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. The texture of the rice should be creamy yet with grains that still have some bite. Remove from the heat and spoon onto a platter. Garnish with the asparagus and pimiento.Serves 6 to 8.

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