Posts Tagged ‘rice


arroz con pollo

I decided to try an unorthodox method for arroz con pollo last night. I baked it in the oven instead of cooking it on the stove. I’ve said it before, but I’ve heard it a million times, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t, too: the only proper way to cook Mexican rice is to toast it, add the broth, stir once, and then leave it absolutely alone, uncovered and on the stovetop, until it is done. Never mind that this method has always left me with both burnt spots (that’s okay, those are yummy) and undercooked spots (not okay). It is the only way to do it, and all other ways are doomed to failure.

Not true. Not that I didn’t run into snags, but the finished product was nearly perfect. Check this out:

finished arroz con pollo
Isn’t that beautiful?

First snag: as the clerk at Drewe’s went to ring up my chicken thighs, I grabbed the bag and realized something was wrong. It was too squishy. “Um, are these boneless?” I asked. They were, but the clerk had the good grace to look a little abashed that he had assumed. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any bone-in, so I paid up and walked home, fretting about how I was sure to overcook the boneless meat.

I set that worry aside as I put Thanksgiving’s frozen turkey carcass in a pot to simmer into stock and the freezer’s supply of leaf lard into a skillet to render. An hour or so later, those two products were put away to chill, and I was on to other things for a bit.

The lard froze in unexpectedly pretty patterns:
frozen lard

Come time to cook dinner, snag number two: I got the onion going in the cast iron skillet before I remembered I was supposed to sear the outside of the chicken. So out came another skillet, sear, sear, spatter, spatter, stick, stick. Which gave me the opportunity to deglaze that pan with stock and add the tasty browned bits to the main pan.

But first I added the garlic, then the 1.5 cups of rinsed and drained rice (to get rid of excess starch; another innovation) along with 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of comino, .25 teaspoon of cayenne, and a generous pinch of salt. When everything was toasty, I added 2.5 cups of stock (then a little more, in consideration of the boneless chicken’s tendency to dry out), and a generous squeeze of tomato paste. I stirred until the tomato paste dissolved, then nestled the chicken down in the liquid. When everything started to bubble, I threw on a lid and slid the skillet into the middle of a 350 F oven for 30 minutes.

arroz con pollo ready for the oven
Ready for the oven

Third snag: About 10 minutes into the baking, I was seized by an urgent desire to peek and see how it was doing. I resisted. J-P says good thing, because if I had done that, the spirits from the Ark of the Covenant would have flown out and melted my face off. Obviously that’s what happens when you give the rice the ojo.

I occupied myself instead by making some of the best tortillas I’ve ever made. Thinner than usual and still soft, even this morning. I’m not sure what I did, but I think I upped the baking powder (about a teaspoon for the two cups of flour; the same amount of salt would have been good, but I put in only half a teaspoon), and added what felt like a little too much water. The masa was a little stickier than I wanted to work with, but apparently that was a good thing. I also made the portions much too big at first, as evidenced by the way this one fills the pan:

tortilla como australia

It also reminds me of a poem I read once and want to track down again. I think it was in a South End Press anthology. It’s called “Tortillas como Africa” and is about, among other things, the difficulties of making round tortillas. I think mine looks like Australia, if you squint.

For some reason, everything was a little lacking in salt. I think I could have doubled all of the seasonings in the rice and it would have been fine. Next time, I also want to rub the chicken with spices before I cook it, and make sure to get a better brown on it (I was scared of overcooking, remember). And I will finish the dish on the stovetop, to make sure the bottom gets burnt for raspas. The trick is making sure everything else is cooked first, and the oven did a fine job of that.


serendipitous cooking methods

My grandmother likes her Mexican rice dry (she’s a fan of raspas, the scrapings from the bottom of the pan), while my grandfather likes his with a little juice. Her rules for rice-making are: brown the onions and garlic, then the rice, then add liquid and let it be. Don’t stir it, don’t give it the ojo. The more times I’ve tried this method, the more I’ve come to think that it is meant to give uneven results–just to make everyone happy. In Boston, I blamed the crispy edges and juicy middle (plus the stray hard grains) on our dented, slanted stove. Here in San Francisco, our electric cooktop is perfectly flat–and still no luck. Maybe next time I’ll stir it. Not much, I promise. It’s not risotto. But just enough to get rid of the undercooked bits. Nobody likes those.

Austin Clarke has even worse suspicions about the traditional Barbadian method of preparing rice and beans in one pot. In Pig Tails n Breadfruit, he writes:

The woman cooking this food probably had only one utensil to her name in which to cook her food. But cooking any kind of peas or beans in the same pot as you cook rice is a very tricky thing to do. Sometimes, the peas or the beans does be cooked, and when you hear the shout, the damn rice does be hard. At other times, the rice does be cooked soft, and oh Lord, the peas or the beans does be hard as bullets.

He advises preparing them separately, unless you are an expert.


piggy peach risotto

Not even vaguely Tex-Mex, but still what we had for dinner last night. J-P decided to try the peach-and-pancetta version of this watermelon-and-pancetta risotto recipe that Eric Asimov posted in the Diners’ Journal a few weeks ago. It was good, but next time we will salt the rice as it cooks (we relied on the pancetta for salt this time), use more basil, and use a stronger stock (we used the powdered veggie broth we usually use for risotto, but a good chicken stock is clearly the way to go here). The flavorful bits were very flavorful and quite nice together, but the risotto itself lacked a little oomph.


writing but not blogging: rice edition

I’m still squeezing in some time to write, but most of it hasn’t been too bloggable. I spent about half an hour after work last Thursday (8/26) at 826 Valencia‘s Write-a-Thon, in support of their after-school tutoring and other work. Here’s part of what I scribbled down:

…Southerners—whether black, white, or other—led the United States in rice consumption before easy shipping, broadcast media, and convenience foods started to wear away at the country’s regional cuisines. The states that led in rice production also led in rice consumption: South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas. South Carolina is where rice was first cultivated in future United States territory—in fact, South Carolinian rice planters chose their slaves particularly for their expertise growing the grain in Africa. After the Civil War, Louisiana took the rice-growing crown that South Carolina had worn for almost two hundred years. In the twentieth century, newcomer Arkansas and long-time secondary producer Texas “vied with Louisiana for dominance.”

Outside of the South, certain ethnic groups were associated with rice-eating: East Asians in California, Caribbeans in New York. In Texas (along with New Mexico and California), so were Mexican Americans. Rice was also associated with poverty, and the rice-eating regions and ethnic groups were, overall, poor.

At the time of the first National Food Consumption Survey in 1955, there was already a sign of the trendiness that would nationalize rice-eating and make rice a relatively chic grain. Rice consumption remained high among the poor and dropped as incomes increased—all the way to the upper end of the income distribution, where there was an uptick in rice consumption. By the mid-fifties, rice was well on its way to overcoming its traditional image as a fattening grain for the poor and ethnic.8 In fact, it would soon play a large role in a countercultural “western arcadian lifestyle,” the culinary branch of which would mature in the 1970s with Alice Waters’ California take on nouvelle cuisine and its emphasis on “light, fresh foods in their natural forms.” What could be lighter, fresher, or more natural than (self-evidently slimming) Asian cuisines, which both nouvelle and California cuisine appropriated gladly?

All of the quotes are from a 1983 Geographical Review article by James R. and Barbara G. Shortridge on the changes in US rice consumption between 1955 and 1980. The Shortridges find it an anomaly that Texas, alone among Southern rice-producing states, had increased consumption during that time, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the state’s increased production, its Asian immigration during the period, and the growing popularity of Tex-Mex at the time.

Long-Grain White Rice


more thoughts on rice

Mark Kurlansky’s edited collection of WPA writing about regional foodways in the early twentieth-century U.S., The Food of a Younger Land, has three index entries for rice, all pointing to essays from the South. “Spanish” rice had spread as far as Mississippi by the Depression, but the most interesting of the three entries is the essay “Florida Shrimp Pilau Supper.” Rose Shepherd, the author, avers that the recipe came down to contemporary Floridians “from the early Minorcan settlers.” Kurlansky thinks this is unlikely, given that pilau/pilaf is common throughout the Caribbean, and in the parts of that region where there are large Indian populations, it is recognized to come from them. Florida probably got it, he thinks, from the rest of the Caribbean.

Like flatbreads and chili, I’m interested in pilaf as a cross-cultural preparation: Farsi “pulaw” goes to India (and Turkey, Central Asia, Spain, etc) as a Muslim dish. From India, it goes to the Caribbean and east Africa. From Spain, it goes to the Americas. From the Latin America and the Caribbean, it reaches parts of the Americas the Spaniards never spent much, if any, time in. Pilaf is everywhere.

The “Florida Shrimp Pilau Supper” essay’s assumptions about the dish’s origins reveal an interesting ranking of “others” in white Floridian society at the time. Given that the Black Legend of murderous Spanish Catholic zeal still exists today in Florida (born there at the sixteenth-century confrontation between Spanish St. Augustine and Huguenot Fort Caroline), the “early Minorcan” settlers can’t have been looked on too favorably. But they were certainly better to credit with the dish than other Caribbeans, whom you couldn’t even safely assume were actually white…


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