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Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice)

October 2, 2011 by Joan Nova in Nuevo Latino, Poultry, Rice/Risotto | 18 Comments

Apparently every Spanish-speaking country has their version of this classic dish. Being half-Spanish, I grew up eating a traditional arroz con pollo from Spain. When I started cooking myself, I took a somewhat Spanish-American approach. That meant I used no-fail Uncle Ben’s rice and strictly adhered to the directions…2-1 liquid, bring to a boil, lower and cover for 20 minutes. Even when I did it in a paellera in the oven, I covered it with foil.

Interestingly, I realized as I wrote this post that the literal translation of this dish is ‘rice with chicken'; yet, it is popularly translated and referred to as ‘chicken and rice’ (and that’s the way I used to make it.) Do you see the distinction?

Differences from one country to another generally revolve around the herbs, bases and/or vegetables used. Though I haven’t tried all the varieties, I have eaten Puerto Rican arroz con pollo many times — and I love it!

To get you in the mood, here’s a visual of the island accompanied by the voice of Marc Anthony singing “Preciosa”; lyrics by Rafael Hernandez, a musical legend in Puerto Rico. It’s the unofficial national anthem of PR.

What Makes Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo Different (read ‘better’)

The Chicken. I always made it with large (whole) pieces of chicken and viewed the rice as an equal or slightly lesser component. In the Puerto Rican kitchen the name of the dish is literally translated and rice is the star. Instead of whole pieces, the chicken is generally cut it into smaller pieces so that it’s well-mixed through the rice and you get a bite of chicken with almost every forkful…and every forkful of rice has the taste of chicken! This makes so much more sense, doesn’t it?

Flavor. There are some distinct flavor differences coming from ingredients not familiar to Spain or readily available in all American supermarkets. Chief among them are achiote (annatto oil), culantro (coriander) leaves and cilantro.

• Like many one-pot dishes in PR, it all starts with a green cooking sauce called recaíto. The typical recaíto is a blend of onions, garlic, ajicitos, green bell pepper and lots of cilantro and culantro which are pulverized in a pilon (mortar and pestle). It is basically the same ingredients as Puerto Rican sofrito, but without the red color from tomatoes and red peppers.

You’re looking for a pesto-like ratio of herbs to oil. Being lazy and always in search of an efficient way, I used the blender: about 1 cup cilantro, 1/2 dozen culantro leaves, 1/2 bell pepper, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 onion, 1/3 cup of olive oil, 1/4 tsp dry seasoning.

• Another big difference (and the one that intrigued me most) is the technique used to cook the rice. I’ve marveled over the years when I’d see my friends throw rice in the pot, add an unknown amount of liquid and let it cook bubbling (uncovered) for an unspecified amount of time. Dios mio…no measurements? No following Uncle Ben’s directions?

Yet, it was always perfectly cooked — and it was always delicious.

When I returned from a recent trip to PR with an unsatisfied yen for arroz con pollo, I decided to give it a try.

4.8 from 4 reviews
Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice)
  • 4 large chicken thighs broken down to 16 pieces (4 left attached to bone)
  • 1 pkg culantro
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper (or aji dulce peppers)
  • stuffed green olives
  • capers
  • 2 cups medium grain rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • ½ can (4 ozs) of Goya Spanish style tomato sauce
  • ½ can of Goya gandules (pigeon peas)
  • 2 packages of Goya Sazón with culantro + anchiote
  • salt and pepper
  • about 1-1/2 inch piece of dried chorizo minced
  • olive oil
How To
  1. Make recaito in blender (see above).
  2. Butcher chicken and season with ½ packet of Sazón.
  3. Put a few tablespoons olive oil in heavy pot (like dutch oven) and add a few tablespoons of recaíto.
  4. Add 2 cloves garlic minced, other half of onion and pepper (minced) and saute.
  5. Add chorizo and tomato sauce.
  6. Add chicken pieces and cook for a few minutes till external rawness disappears.
  7. Add wine, olives and capers.
  8. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes longer to evaporate alcohol.
  9. Add rice, mix well to coat the grains and cook for a couple minutes.
  10. Add broth and 1-1/2 packets of Sazón with culantro + achiote.
  11. Bring to full boil and continue cooking for about 5-10 minutes until you start to see some of the rice rising to the surface.
  12. At this point, lower heat and cover pot.
  13. Cook for an additional 20 minutes.
  14. Add cooked pigeon peas, remaining culantro (chopped or whole), cover again and let sit.
• Finish with drizzle of olive oil and a few fried guineos (baby sweet plantains). • Sazon with culantro + achiote replaces Spanish saffron for coloring and flavoring rice. • Serves 4-6.

FOODalogue touches: Puerto Rican cooks generally don’t add chorizo or gandules to their ‘arroz con pollo’ dishes. Instead, those ingredients are reserved for specific dishes like pork-flavored arroz con gandules or a potage of garbanzos and chorizos. Sometimes, red beans (habichuelas coloradas) are served as a side dish.

…but, I like what both of these add to the pot.

Taste Test. I love the taste that culantro imparts so I used the whole package (first in the recaíto and then some whole leaves mixed in with the rice).

And about that rice…it was delicious, just like they make in Puerto Rico! I found it surprisingly soft but not mushy, even in reheating the leftovers which I ate for lunch AND dinner the next day. I couldn’t help myself . :) Does anyone know if that softness is attributable to the shorter grain or the method of cooking?

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. bellini says:

    The concept of recaíto is new to me but I am always eager to learn.

  2. Adriana says:

    Oh wow, Joan! It looks fantastic! Gandules and ham are my standard add-ins to arroz con pollo if I’m entertaining a crowd around the holiday season(when everyone is begging for a break from lechon). I also bake the rice in a Dutch oven, instead of cooking it on the stovetop because I’m terrified of it coming out mushy. I learned that trick from a jambalaya recipe and haven’t cooked arroz con pollo any other way since then.
    Adriana recently posted..French Fridays with Dorie: Live Blog! Honey-Spiced MadeleinesMy Profile

    • Joan says:

      Thanks for the info about baking it in dutch oven. I assume you start it stove top and then transfer to oven. I think I’ll try this next time.

  3. Anamaris says:

    mmmm… se me hace agua la boca! It looks and sounds delicious. In Panama we add raisins to it too. I’ve never made it with short grain rice, but I’m going to try it!

  4. redkathy says:

    I too remember and was amazed how the ladies from PR made rice! OMG it took me what seemed forever to get it right. My 1st in-laws included gandules in their arroz con pollo recipe too.
    redkathy recently posted..Ghirardelli Chocolate Peanut Butter BreadMy Profile

  5. Peter says:

    Never heard of recaito but it must be good as it’s a must in PR cuisine. A wonderfully executed is a delight to eat, yum!

  6. Katie says:

    I like rice. I like chicken. But generally speaking, arroz con pollo (well, at least my Argentine mother-in-law’s version) doesn’t excite me very much. This Puerto Rican version, however, sounds different and tasty. I can’t find the “secret ingredients” here in Argentina, but maybe I can experiment when I go back to the States in November for a visit.

  7. Marie says:

    A friend who has since moved away her mother use to make this all the time, man I miss that! Looks wonderful Joan!

  8. norma says:

    How lovely this looks. You did this dish justice. I use my “olla” which I have had for more than 25 years to make all my rice dishes. I like the addition of the sweet plantain.
    I use my sofrito blend and also recaito to some of my dishes.
    norma recently posted..Cabillaud Toulonnais – Cod Toulon StyleMy Profile

  9. What a fabulous and informative post Joan! My favorite part about cooking is tasting new and wonderful dishes from all over the world. It is so interesting to learn how different countries interpret the same basic dish. I can’t wait to try this version of arroz con pollo.
    sandra axelrod recently posted..Mommy’s Salmon CroquettesMy Profile

  10. I had made friends with a man from Panama and he was telling me all about this culantro then I saw it at a Latino market; exciting, can’t wait to cook with it ; your recipe for the arroz con pollo is the best and most thorough I have seen. I had given up on making it, because my previous attempts were so unsatisfacotry, with a chicken that was dry and a bland rice. Love the flavors here, the herbal pesto and the rest of it.

  11. This is a wonderful wonderful recipe Joan. The flavors, the ingredients shine and I love your personal adaptation of the classic. I am still trying to keep up with the different version of this dish that grace all of south america.

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors
    Devaki @ weavethousandflavors recently posted..Sicilian Style Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Capers & Roasted Red PeppersMy Profile

  12. The details that make this specifically Puerto Rican are so interesting! I’ve never used culantro, and I’m curious about the flavor. The finished dish looks outstanding.
    lisaiscooking recently posted..General Tso’s ChickenMy Profile

  13. I love this dish. I always think of an I Love Lucy episode, which is where I first heard of it.
    angela@spinachtiger recently posted..Aretha Frankenstein’s Buttermilk Biscuits and Six Tips for Making Great BiscuitsMy Profile

  14. love Puerto Rico and its food and people and music. Wish this dish would appear in front of me right away ;)

    And those plantains look amazing.

  15. Gimlet says:

    I am not Puerto Rican but grew up in New York and enjoyed this type of dish many times at my friends homes. I like to cook many types of cuisine but have never tried this one the picture and ingredients in your have inspired me and look better than any I have ever seen. Can’t wait for dinner with my family tonight I am sure they will enjoy this. Thanks!

  16. J Rivas says:

    Easy to make and taste amazing!

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