El Pollo Loco!
My Great Grandmother was a saint. She didn’t speak English, except for the words “hot dog” and “candy.” Those were the only things I ever wanted to eat when she took care of me. What else would a 3-year-old psychopath want? I was a horrible little beast.
I would constantly run through her little tropical Cuban apartment in the not so tropical land of Marietta, Georgia (home of The Big Chicken!). There were so many lovely things to break and rummage through. This is the very same apartment that I decided to attempt a back flip off the plastic covered floral sofa sadly landing face first on the corner of the coffee table.
That little mishap did not kill my spirit. A few missing teeth and a gnarly scar on my forehead wouldn’t stop me. There were things Little Miss Evil Knievel-in-training needed to jump off of.
I nearly lost my mind the time I discovered my great grandmothers wig boxes. Poor Mimi (her name was Maria but I called her Mimi), I can still see the look on her face as I came tearing through the kitchen with one of her white curly wigs on my head. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head.
Hell, I used to be in so much trouble pretty much all the time. I’m surprised I didn’t get dropped off in the middle of the woods somewhere. Left to fend for myself or be raised by a pack of squirrels.
One of my first food memories is hanging out with Mimi and cooking Arroz con Pollo. It’s seemed like we used to eat Cuban chicken and rice at least once a week. It was by far my favorite dish as a kid (so long as I got a drumstick). As a grown-up, it’s still one of my favorites, reminds me of home and family.
I love that it’s so unnaturally yellow, and filled with tasty chicken and olives. I’d eat olives off a mound of contaminated dumpster filth. I love them so. The only difference between my arroz con pollo and my great grandmothers is that I tend to put hot sauce in everything I make. Tapatio is my crutch. I need it to survive. I suppose there are much worse addictions to be had. Hot sauce addiction ain’t so bad.
Cubano Arroz con Pollo
1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter, 2 lbs chicken pieces (legs, thighs, halved breasts) 1/2 cup achiote oil (recipe below, or olive oil and a packet of Sazon seasoning) 1 spanish (white) onion, small diced 1 green pepper, small diced (red pepper will work too) 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 scallions, thinly sliced 1/2 cup spanish olives, sliced 2 cups long grain rice
1 1/2 cups of pilsner beer (I like to use Pacifico) 1 1/2 cups chicken stock 2 tsp cumin 2 tsp oregano 2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp hot sauce kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
For the achiote oil:
1 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp annatto (achiote) seeds
Heat the olive oil and seeds in a sauté pan over medium heat until the seeds start to sizzle. Cook for about 1-2 minutes and once the seeds start to give off aroma and darken, strain the seeds from the oil. Do not overcook, the seeds will burn and become very bitter. Whatever you don't use right away can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week. Be careful, this will stain the hell out of whatever it touches.
for the arroz con pollo:
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large pan over medium high heat, add a Tbsp of olive oil and a Tbsp of butter. Saute the chicken until nicely browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and put aside.
In the same pan, add the achiote oil. Sauté the onion, green pepper, garlic, scallions for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the rice and cook a few minutes until it's well coated with the oil. Put the chicken back in the pan and coat the chicken with the oil. Add the olives, cumin, oregano, beer, chicken stock, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper and give it a few more stirs. Bring it to a boil, cover, and place in the oven.
Cook for 25 minutes and then remove the pan from the oven. Keep it covered and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Uncover it and fluff up the rice with a fork. Serves 4-6. Enjoy!