I’m happy to report that so far I’ve accomplished my goal of cooking a Peruvian meal once a week. My determination has been fired by the drool-worthy photos my friend Carla posts in Facebook, and even when most of the food will never taste the same here, I’ve managed to dish up pretty decent meals.
Last week’s dish was arroz con pollo. It literally means rice with chicken, a very lame name for a rather tasty dish, if prepared properly. This is the lazy cousin of arroz con pato (rice with duck), one of my favourite Peruvian dishes that comes from the north coast of the country. Its ingredients include chicha de jora (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented maize), coriander, yellow chilli, and pumpkin (a variety called loche), which are very typical in that region’s cuisine. Apparently it was when arroz con pato hit Lima that the duck was replaced by the cheaper and more available chicken, and the recipe was simplified. Sometimes housewives simplify it so much, it ends up as a tasteless dry rice slightly coloured by a bit of coriander. Not good.
I must say I prefer the full version of the dish with duck, but considering this was a meal to share with friends and I wasn’t sure if everybody liked duck, I chose to play on the safe side. If you’re a duck lover and would like to give it a go, keep in mind you’ll have to cook it longer.
As for the marinade ingredients, I’ve put chicha de jora as optional in the recipe because I know for most people it’s not worth the hassle to get it. Thankfully, my beloved Peruvian shop Tierras Latinas (which I have visited only once and stocked my pantry to avoid trips to Fairfield for a while) sells it. Regarding the beer, in Peru we use dark malt beers that are full-bodied and more on the sweet side. Here I’ve tried a mix of Guinness and a sweetish ale, Toohey’s Old alone, and White Rabbit Dark Ale alone. I prefer the taste of the dark ale, but any good beer will do the trick.
Finally, regarding the veggies added to the rice at the end, the pumpkin, roasted capsicum and peas are replaced in the simple everyday version by corn, diced carrot and peas. The reason may be that there are packs with those three items ready to use in supermarkets. Not sure, just a thought.
This dish is usually served with salsa criolla, made with thinly sliced red onion, chilli and lime juice. I thought we needed a few more veggies, so served it with an iceberg lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber, celery, corn and avocado salad, dressed with lime juice.
Arroz con pollo
Yield: 6 servings
1 chicken, divided in pieces
3/4 cup beer (preferably dark ale or stout)
3/4 cup chicha de jora (optional, can be replaced by equal volume of beer)
3 tablespoons oil
3 cloves garlic
1 small red onion
2 teaspoons powdered yellow chilli (optional, can be replaced by fresh chilli processed into a paste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons grated butternut pumpkin (or any other)
1 bunch coriander
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons raw sugar
500 grams medium grain white rice
1/3 cup diced butternut pumpkin (or any other)
1 small capsicum
1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
Marinate chicken pieces in beer and chicha for 8 to 12 hours.
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil and sear chicken pieces over high heat. Reserve.
Chop the onion and mince garlic cloves.
In the same pot, heat the rest of the oil and cook onion and garlic over low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the chilli and cumin and cook for other 10 minutes.
In a blender or food processor, make a paste with the coriander (leaves and stalks) and a couple of tablespoons of stock. Add this paste to the pot along with the grated pumpkin and cook for 5 minutes.
Add stock, marinade and chicken pieces to the pot. Add salt, pepper, and sugar. You’ll need to over-season it because the rice hasn’t been added yet. Cook until the chicken is done, remove it from the pot and keep covered.
Add rice to the pot and cook, covered over low heat, for about 20 minutes, until done.
In the meantime, roast the capsicum directly over fire or in the oven until the skin is completely charred. Remove skin, seeds and membrane, and cube.
Blanch peas in boiling salted water for 30 to 60 seconds.
When the rice is done, add chicken pieces, capsicum and peas, and adjust seasoning.