Chef’s Sunday: Arroz con Pollo Infuses a Green Horizon
If my mother were to ask me what dish I wanted for lunch I would ask her to make an exquisite arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). I grew up with this dish. I enjoyed it every time my mother called me to the table and it had been prepared. Happily I would quit playing with my friends to be able to get home and contemplate for a few seconds the beautiful plate that was before me. It gave me a lovely feeling of my mother’s love since it was with that love that she would prepare this dish for the pleasure of our family.
This dish is a variation of the famous northern rice with duck that is typical of Chiclayo on Peru´s north coast. The soul of this dish comes from the cilantro (green coriander) from the Peruvian Andes. It gives an intense green color and an unbelievably good flavor from being submitting to a long cooking time. It also lets off a sublime aroma from the whole process of being prepared.
The dish develops from a combination of fresh cilantro with with the classic onion and garlic as well as a blend of dried hot peppers, yellow and panca ajies. The farmers of the north submit them to an tiring process of long hours of drying under the sun so that they dehydrate and have their flavors concentrate. Through this process the peppers are laid down one by one in large quantities and thus end up giving color to extensive flat lands in an impression of natural art. Anyone would stop to contemplate it.
In addition, cumin and pepper are a fundamental for this preparation since the meat has to marinate well in the seasoning so that it can absorb their flavors and not be a flavorless meat. The other fundamental ingredient for this dish is chicha de jora (an alcoholic beverage made from corn) that gives as much flavor as the cilantro. On coming together these all form a symphony of flavors without equal. The decoration of the dish, and a bit of flavor, comes from carrots and peas that bring a varied color to this dish.
Many people have their own recipe. Maybe they like to accompany this dish with a side of the fabulous papa a la huancaina (potatoes in huancaina sauce) or maybe they like to use a creole zarza made ceviche style ( finely sliced red onions and cilantro in lime juice) that is very refreshing since the lime’s acidity maries well with the cilantro. On the other hand, of course, the huancaina sauce, thick and inundated with flavor, is a perfect accompaniment for the rice. This is so much the case that I would dare to say that the best one could imagine would be accompanying an arroz con pollo with it.
This rice with chicken is so popular that Lima’s high cuisine has reinterpreted this mainstay of northern home cooking by giving it a different form of preparation and a sophisticated decoration in order to serve it in the most elegant restaurants and in world gastronomical festivals. It is proof that Peruvian creativity knows no limits. As a result, Peru was recently named the best culinary destination of the world. This is a great recompense for all the cooks who get up early every day to constantly refine their dishes and give them with love to the world.
Arroz Con Pollo
6 pieces of chicken or duck
½ cup oil
1 red onion cut into small squares
3 tb. garlic paste.
200 ml ají panca paste
100 ml ají mirasol paste
1 cup cilantro paste (ground cilantro)
2 red peppers diced
1 cup peas
3 cups rice
1 cup chicha de jora or beer if chicha is not available
3 cups water
Marinate the meat with salt, pepper and cumin. Heat oil in a medium pan and then seal the meat on all sides. Set it aside.
To the same pan in which we sealed the meat, add the onion and garlic. Let it cook for a few minutes. Then we add the aji panca and the mirasol (yellow aji), the salt, pepper, cumin, and cilantro paste. We call this step making the aderezo (dressing) and it must have flavor. We let the aderezo cook for a few minutes until the pastes begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. At that moment we add the chicha or beer so we can lift all the aderezo stuck to the bottom of the pan as a fond. Then we add the pieces of chicken (or duck) and the water and bring it to a boil until the chicken is cooked.
We remove the poultry and set it aside. To the liquid we add the red pepper, the peas, and the rice. We check it for salt and we let it all cook until the rice reaches its proper point. Finally we serve the rice with a piece of chicken on a plate and add a zarza of onions and cilantro in lime.