I’m so excited to share this Cuban chicken and rice dish with you because it’s my favorite Cuban dish! For years, I would ask Mami to make this for my birthday. There are two versions of Cuban chicken and rice you can make, and my favorite version is arroz con pollo a la chorrera, which means that the rice is wet, similar to risotto (chorrera can mean a water spout or drip).
The Long And Short Of Arroz Con Pollo
For years, we lived in a house divided. Half of my family liked their chicken and rice made with short-grain rice (a la chorrera), and the other half liked it with long grain rice. Everything else about the dish is essentially the same, but the rice makes all the difference in the finished product.
Arroz con pollo a la chorrera is made with short-grain rice called Valencia Rice which is very similar to the rice used in risotto. So, the dish is saucy, and the rice is soft and sticks together. And, if you’ve got leftovers, you can make these super tasty fried rice balls (they are amazeballs, trust me!).
But you can also make arroz con pollo with long grain rice, and it will be just as tasty, but the rice will not be saucy and quite as soft. In this case, you’ll cook with less liquid.
Cuban Chicken and Rice Is Almost Like Paella
Arroz con pollo is very similar to paella, especially if you make it with short-grain rice. These rice dishes use most of the same ingredients, except that paella includes a variety of meats and a liberal amount of wine. You can make paella with pork, chicken, and seafood. One of my favorite versions is paella mixta with chicken, shrimp, and chorizo.
Arroz con pollo is simpler to make because you just need chicken. The other big difference is that chicken and rice cooks in beer instead of wine. First, you cook the rice with chicken broth and just a little bit of wine. Then, add the beer when most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost done. Beer gives this dish a distinctive taste.
How To Make Arroz Con Pollo
I like to make this rice dish with dark meat because it’s tastier this way. I’ve made it with chicken breast, and the breast meat tends to be dry. Also, it does not absorb the flavors quite as much. To make this rice very flavorful, you should use chicken and drumsticks with the bone and skin. It gives the dish such a rich taste!
But I made my version with skinless, boneless chicken thighs because it’s easier to eat. I don’t like having the bones in the way. It’s really up to your chicken preferences. However, if you opt for skinless and boneless chicken, you should use a little more olive oil and definitely use chicken broth. The broth is optional if you’re using bone-in chicken because the bone imparts so much flavor.
The other ingredients include aromatics such as onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Although traditionally made with chopped green bell peppers and garnished with pimentos (roasted red bell pepper), I make some mods to suit my peeps. My stepdad does not like peppers in his food so I keep the peppers chunky so he can remove them easily. Also, I don’t like green peppers so I usually replace them with red bell peppers. We all have our quirks! 😜
The spices in this dish are smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves. Another seasoning I like to use in my Cuban chicken and rice is saffron. This is an essential ingredient in paella, but totally optional in arroz con pollo. But I love the spice so much that I usually add it to rice and tomato-based dishes. However, this spice is pricey and sometimes hard to find. So you can opt not to use it.
Some folks marinate the chicken the day before. But I usually don’t because I don’t always plan my meals a day ahead, like today 😯. So I typically rub the spices into the chicken and let it sit while I prep the rest of the items. If you have the time to marinate, you can add the wine, salt, pepper, spices, and garlic the recipe calls for to the chicken and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. But don’t sweat it, it will be good either way.
Once you’ve sauteed all the veggies and added the spices, and tomato sauce, add the rice and sauté for a bit. Then add the white wine and the chicken broth. Cook for about twenty minutes, until the arroz con pollo is almost done, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Then, you’ll add a cup of beer and let it finish cooking. You can add some olives if you like, too.
Garnish your Cuban chicken and rice with peas, roasted peppers, and parsley and served with a side of fried plantains. I like to use the twice-fried green plantains known as tostones. Fried sweet plantains known as maduros are another popular Cuban side dish. Add a side salad, and you’ve got a Cuban feast going on!Print
Cuban chicken and rice (aka arroz con pollo) is flavored with paprika, beer and saffron and makes an easy weeknight meal.
2 cups Valencia rice
3 cups chicken broth
2 pounds chicken thighs (I used boneless, skinless, but any way is fine)
1 cup chopped onion
½ red bell pepper (I prefer red but you can also use green bell pepper)
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
¼ black pepper
Pinch saffron threads (optional but highly recommended)
1/4 cup olive oil
½ cup tomato sauce
More salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup white cooking wine
1 cup beer
Trim the chicken pieces to remove the excess fat. Mix the cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper together and rub on the chicken. Let the chicken sit while you chop the onions and peppers and crush the garlic. Finally, measure out and rinse the rice.
Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large frying pan or dutch pot and heat on medium-high. Add the chicken pieces and brown on each side. Don’t crowd the pan; cook into two batches if necessary. This should take about 4-6 minutes.
Remove the chicken, add the onions, garlic, and peppers, and saute until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and saute for another minute. Add the rice and saute for 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bay leaf, and saffron threads. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. At this point, you may want to add a little more of the spices or salt to taste. Add the chicken and turn up the heat to bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, lower heat to medium-low and cover. Cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the rice is al dente. Then add a cup of beer, cover, and cook for a few more minutes until the rice is done and most of the liquid is absorbed. This could take 5-10 minutes. This is not an exact science, so check on it to make sure it does not overcook.
Garnish with peas and pimentos and serve the fried plantains and a side salad. Then, get a little cake, and you’ve got my birthday meal all set!
You can marinate the chicken overnight using the spices, crushed garlic cloves, and wine. In that case, still use the 2 garlic cloves and the 1/4 cup white wine in your preparation. You may also want to add more spices once you add the broth and taste the seasonings. I don’t usually marinate my chicken, but some folks do it this way.
To be totally honest, this dish tastes even better when you use the bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks. But I don’t like picking through the bones, it’s a personally hang-up, so I opt for boneless and skinless. I don’t suggest chicken breast because it tends to be dry and doesn’t absorb as much flavor. However, if you go with the skinless and boneless chicken, make sure to add chicken broth.
To make this dish with long grain rice, cut the broth down to two cups (so it’s a one-to-one ratio). Then cut the beer amount to ½ cup and cook it until the liquid is fully absorbed.
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