Where Did Arroz Con Pollo Come From?

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Arroz con pollo (or "rice with chicken") has been a staple meal in many Latin American and Spanish families for centuries. The dish has actually been popular for so long that its exact history is unclear. This one-pot meal is made from humble ingredients and a blend of spices, which means that everyone has a unique twist on arroz con pollo. It's affordable, easy-to-cook comfort food, and like Americanized versions of chicken and rice, it's a total crowd-pleaser. Between juicy chicken and crispy bits of perfectly seasoned rice, a pot of arroz con pollo won't last long in your kitchen.

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Pronunciation alert!

If you’re unfamiliar with the Spanish language, make sure you know how to say "arroz con pollo" before cooking or ordering it. It’s pronounced like “a-ROWTH con POY-o.”

What is arroz con pollo, exactly?

Typically, arroz con pollo is made using medium-grain or long-grain rice and chicken thighs. Always use white rice for this dish; brown rice takes too long to cook. (See the note below about more chicken choices.) While there's a lot of variation from recipe to recipe, arroz con pollo is generally made following these steps:

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  1. Season the chicken with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cumin and/or additional spices.
  2. Brown the chicken over medium high heat in olive oil inside a Dutch oven or large skillet. (Use an Instant Pot only if you have an arroz con pollo recipe that's designed for the Instant Pot.)
  3. Remove the chicken and saute chopped onion, several cloves of garlic, green bell peppers and spices in the oil.
  4. Deglaze the pot with chicken stock or chicken broth and/or white wine to loosen any browned bits stuck to the bottom.
  5. Add the rice, chicken and chicken broth/stock back to the pot and let it simmer until the rice and chicken are cooked through.
  6. Optionally, garnish the dish with pigeon peas or other veggies, chopped cilantro and/or lime juice.

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Between prep time and cook time, this dish can typically be prepared start to finish in a total time of under an hour. Add extra prep time if you plan to let the chicken soak in a marinade before cooking. Don't worry about making too much; arroz con pollo makes for delicious leftovers.

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Choosing chicken for arroz con pollo

Arroz con pollo recipes often call for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but you can really use any cuts you choose. Just take cooking time into consideration when using different cuts. For example, you might decide to use skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-size pieces. By the time those small pieces are browned on all sides, they may be completely cooked through, so you may want to wait to add them to the pot until the rice is nearly cooked.

You may also prefer using bone-in pieces, like drumsticks and thighs, if you want really juicy meat (and you’re comfortable eating with your hands). In that case, your chicken will need the full cooking time along with the rice in order to reach a safe internal temperature.

The history of arroz con pollo

Like other famous and traditional Latin American dishes, such as arroz con leche and chile rellanos, we know that arroz con pollo has been a widely popular dish for centuries but can't pinpoint its exact origins. We do know that rice was introduced to the Americas by Spanish conquerors in the early 1500s. Once rice was readily available throughout Latin America, presumably many families thought to combine it with the chicken and spices with which they already cooked. But any concrete information about who made the first potful of arroz con pollo has been lost to culinary history.

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Could you use a vocab lesson?

If you’re not familiar with cooking Latin American dishes, you might see a few unfamiliar terms or ingredients in arroz con pollo recipes. Here are a few terms you need to know.

  • Sofrito:‌ A cooking base made from cooked onions and other aromatics.
  • Sazón‌: A spice blend that’s commonly used in authentic Puerto Rican dishes; Goya sells a popular version.
  • Adobo:‌ Another kind of traditional spice blend used in Puerto Rican recipes (and other Latin American recipes), adobo seasoning typically includes salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.
  • Culantro:‌ An herb that’s similar to cilantro and can be used interchangeably with cilantro.
  • Annatto/Achiote:‌ Annatto, which come from the seeds of the achiote plant, has a reddish hue that contributes to arroz con pollo’s distinctive yellow hue.
  • Caldero:‌ A Spanish name for a cooking pot that you might use to make arroz con pollo.

Variations on arroz con pollo

If you were to travel to different places around the world where this rice dish is traditionally served, you would probably notice some subtle differences in the way various recipes are made. Here's a look at just a few of those differences.

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  • Puerto Rican arroz con pollo recipes might call for green olives, annatto, culantro and plenty of sazón.
  • Spanish-style arroz con pollo recipes often use tomato sauce and/or fresh tomatoes along with Spanish wine, capers and saffron for both color and flavor.
  • More general Caribbean-style arroz con pollo recipes may call for jerk-style spices, like allspice, as well as additional ingredients including sweet potatoes, black beans and/or other proteins, like ham.

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Although the exact history of arroz con pollo remains a mystery, here's something we know for sure: It's deliciousness in a pot. Try it yourself the next time it's cold outside and you're craving comfort food. And don't be surprised if you want to remake and remake it again after that. Experiment with spices and add-ins until you've perfected your own signature recipe for arroz con pollo!

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