I first served a salad of thin, lightly cooked zucchini ribbons, raw carrot curls and avocado slices on red lettuce leaves drizzled in Calamondin Vinaigrette.
For the entrée, I used plump, boneless and skinless chicken thighs, as the results are moister and much easier to eat without having to pick the meat off the bones on the plate.
Arroz con Pollo a la Chorrera
8 chicken thighs, fat removed as much as possible
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Meyer lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Marinate the chicken in the above ingredients in a plastic bag or covered glass Pyrex dish for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.
When ready to start cooking, sauté the drained and dried chicken pieces in a small quantity of olive oil. You don't want to bathe it in the oil, but enough that the meat doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Turn over a couple of times to get the desired golden-brown crust. Place on a dish and reserve, covered until later.
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 dried bay leaves
½ teaspoon Spanish or smoky paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
½ small can tomato sauce
1 cup dry Sherry
2½ cups Valencia, Arborio or any other risotto rice
½ of a 32-ounce box of chicken broth (no MSG)
1 24-ounce can of beer
A generous pinch saffron threads (*)
1 Tablespoon capers (*)
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
1½ cups Petit Pois or sweet English peas
Strips of red pimento for garnish (optional)
Using the same pan and oil in which the chicken was sautéed, start your sofrito (the Cuban version of a mirepoix or Cajun holy trinity) by adding the chopped onion, bell pepper, shallot, garlic and bay leaves, and sauté until the onion and peppers are soft and translucent, but before the garlic turns brown. Sprinkle with the paprika, cumin and salt (or you can use one of the Goya all-purpose seasonings with no MSG); add the tomato sauce and sherry scraping the bottom to deglaze the pan and simmer for a couple of minutes.
Add the rice and stir around for a bit, a couple of minutes. Add the chicken broth and half the can of beer, reserving the rest for later. Add the saffron, capers and fresh oregano (I used the tiny leaves of my stick oregano bush).
At this point, put the chicken back into the pan with whatever juices collected while reserving, nestling the pieces into the rice. Cover and turn heat to the lowest level; let simmer until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Add the rest of the can of beer and let it continue cooking, covered, until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Add more chicken broth or sherry if needed.
Let it sit, covered for a few minutes until time to serve. The rest of the liquid will be completely absorbed and the rice will be plump, succulent and full of flavor.
The Petit Pois or English peas are not added until the cooking process is done so the peas maintain their plump roundness. Garnish with red pimento strips if desired. I didn't, since I used red bell pepper in my sofrito.
(*) To get more color and flavor from the saffron, first soak in lemon or lime juice for a little while and using a spoon, mash it a bit to extract as much color as possible. Since I used Meyer lemons in the chicken marinade, I used Meyer lemon juice to soak the saffron.
(*) When adding salt be careful if you will be using capers, since they are also salty. I waited until after I added the capers and tasted the broth before I added the salt.