Arroz con Pollo

Arroz con pollo is as classic Cuban as it gets. The aromas of arroz con pollo bring back memories of my abuela’s house and Sunday afternoons seasoned with fragrant saffron, sautéed sofrito, and sazon Goya. My mother typically makes fricase de pollo, a fancier  Cuban chicken dish served with white rice that is a staple in our house, but I had a recent craving for the homey goodness of this hearty Cuban dish.

A delicious arroz con pollo starts with short grain Valencia rice that is soft and starchy, and nicely browned chicken. I never enjoyed the appearance of arroz con pollo as a kid so I make sure to brown my chicken on all sides to develop more complex flavors and give the skin a beautiful golden brown color.

Arroz con pollo is a perfect Cuban recipe for these cold New York winter days and reminds me of weekends in Miami surrounded by family. I’ve never ordered arroz con pollo at a restaurant for me this is a dish best cooked at home enjoyed with family and friends.

Arroz con Pollo Recipe

  • 4 to 6 pieces chicken bone-in and skin-on (I prefer chicken thighs)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 red pepper diced
  • 1/2 green pepper diced
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • Bay leaves
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 package sazon Goya con azafran
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 1 can light beer (Becks, Heineken, Presidente, Budweiser)
  • 1 small can sweet peas (1 tablespoon reserved for garnish)
  • 1 can red pimientos sliced (one pimiento reserved for garnish)
  • 2 cups valencia rice, washed
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • lime garnish

Dice your sofrito of red and green pepper, onion, and garlic and set aside. Heat your pot with olive oil on medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown on all sides and set aside on a plate. Add the green and red bell pepper and onion to the pot.

Once the onions become translucent and soft add the garlic. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and add the tomato sauce and simmer. Season the sofrito with the cumin, oregano, bay leaf, and salon Goya con azafran. Add the chicken and top with jar of peas, sliced pimientos with liquid, bottle of beer, rice and water. Bring the arroz con pollo to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer uncovered stirring occasionally for 30 to 40 minutes.

When your liquid is all absorbed the arroz con pollo is ready. Garnish with the reserved pimiento and peas and a wedge of lime.

*I made half of a recipe which is why I used only 3 chicken thighs for this dish.

 

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Cuban Vaca Frita

Vaca-Frita

Vaca frita’s crisp deliciousness is most transcendent when you get off a flight at MIA and rush over to Versailles to welcome your palate back home. Whenever I go back to Miami I have my mandatory must-haves, and vaca frita is one of them- like croquetas, pan tostada with café con leche, Publix subs, pastelitos, Pollo Tropical, and if I’m lucky Mary’s Coin and Laundry Pan Cubanos.

Vaca-Frita-seasoned-flank-steakVaca-Frita-with-housemade-mojo

Vaca frita is tender shredded flank steak marinated with garlicky mojo and fried crisp with white onion. Garnished with a squeeze lime it is best enjoyed with los tres amigos- friojles negros, arroz blanco, y platano maduros. Vaca frita is a Cuban classic that is one of my favorites. This is a dish I most often order out and rarely have cooked at home.

Vaca-Frita-with-fresh-garlicVaca-Frita-ready-for-mojo

When I was cooking this vaca frita recipe I realized hadn’t made this not even once since I last cooked it with my abuela. Sometimes I feel like I am stumbling through the steps with vague memories and recipe doubt, but this vaca frita was seriously perfection. Crispy. Flavorful. Home.

vaca frita picture perfect

Vaca Frita

For the steak:

  • 5-2 lbs flank steak (falda)
  • 1 large onion cut lengthwise, reserve half
  • ½ green bell pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1-2 bay leaves (hoja de laurel)
  • Enough water to cover the steak
  • ¼ c dry white cooking wine (vino seco)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for frying

For the mojo:

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of one lime

To serve:

  • Lime wedges
  • White rice, black beans, and platano maduros

Rinse the flank steak and add it to a heavy pot. Add half of the onion, half a green bell pepper cut in large chunks, 2 whole garlic cloves, and 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp cumin, the bay leaves, and freshly cracked black pepper.

Vaca-Frita-with-seasoningVaca-Frita-seasoned

Cover with the flank steak with water. Bring the water to a boil then turn the heat down to a low simmer and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours uncovered. Add water if needed (I didn’t) to avoid the pot from burning. DO NOT cover the pot while the flank steak is cooking and be sure to stir every once in a while so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

While the flank steak is cooking away make the mojo. Mash the 4 garlic cloves with 1 tsp salt and 2 tbsp olive oil with a mortar and pestle. Add the juice of one lime and mash a little more. Set aside.

vaca-frita-with-mojovaca-frita-with-homemade-mojo

Remove the flank steak from the cooking liquid and shred with two forks while hot. Discard the onion and garlic, and keep the bell pepper. Remove the thin skin off the green bell pepper and mash it while hot. Mix the mashed green bell pepper with the shredded beef and add the mojo. Let it sit and marinate for a few minutes while you prepare the onions. Take this time to start cooking the white rice.

Vaca-Frita-Cuban-Comfort-FoodVaca-Frita-is-ready-to-be-seasonedVaca-Frita-with-pureed-green-pepper-and-onionVaca-Frita-Cuban-Recipe

Slice the other half of the onion. Sautee the sliced onions in 2 tbsp olive oil until slightly tender. Remove the onions from the oil and mix in with the mojo-marinating shredded flank steak. Add a little more oil to the pan as needed and get nice and hot. Seriously if your pan doesn’t start out hot the meat will just steam instead of getting crispy. Flatten the shredded beef out to cover the bottom of the pan so all of it can get nice and crisped. Cook the vaca frita about 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Squeeze lime and sprinkle a little salt before serving the vaca frita. Enjoy vaca frita with white rice, black beans, and a lime wedge on the side.

Cuban Stuffing

Cuban-Relleno-ingredients

I’m a holiday traditionalist. Each year I look forward to the tried-and-true dishes, seasonal favorites, and family specialties. While I love thumbing the pages of cookbooks and pinning new holiday sides, I always go back to the classics. One of these classics is my abuela’s Cuban stuffing (relleno) that everyone craves around this time of year. Scribbled on the back page of my mom’s beloved Cocina Criolla cookbook is my abuela’s recipe that she makes each year for the holidays, especially thanksgiving.

cuban-stuffinfkey-ingredients-for-cuban-stuffinfBeautiful-bird-for-thanksgiving

I have to admit I’m a sucker for the bready and soft American version with plenty of butter, celery, and onion, but my abuela’s Cuban stuffing is a thanksgiving and holiday favorite. The mixture of beef, pork, and ham with warm cumin, plump raisins, crunchy almonds, and Spanish olives makes Cuban stuffing a blend of deliciousness with familiar flavors and comforting aromas. My mom makes the stuffing each year for Thanksgiving, but I think it would be great stuffed in small cornish hens for fancy dinners, baked in pastry, or just by the bowlful atop white rice.

delicious-cuban-relleno

I made this Cuban stuffing for the first time ever with my mom this year. The stuffing was easier to make than I imagined, and oh so flavorful. As the years go by, my appreciation for my family’s traditions and favorite dishes has only increased, and I’m happy I get to document them and share with younger cousins, baby brothers and sisters, and future generations.

Cuban Stuffing (Relleno Cubano)

  • 2 lbs ground beef (not low fat)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground ham (do not use smoked or flavored hams)
  • 1 large onion diced (about 1 ½ to 2 cups)
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ¾ cup Spanish olives with pimientos sliced in thirds
  • ¾ cup sliced almonds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp Cumin
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 1 ½ packages cornbread stuffing
  • 1-2 cups turkey/chicken/ or vegetable stock

Dice the garlic and onions; grind the diced ham. I have made the mistake of purchasing smoked, honey, or mesquite diced ham. This totally kills the flavor of the relleno and does not work. I grind the diced ham in the food processor. Add the pork, beef, onion, and garlic to the pan all at the same time. Stir well and cook until just browned. Make sure to buy ground chuck or sirloin and avoid leaner cuts of beef. You do not want to overcook the beef because it will continue cooking in the bird if you choose to stuff it, or it will heat in a crockpot for serving, and do not drain the fat.

Dont-cook-the-onions,-just-stir-with-the-beefAdd-the-sazonCook-and-season-the-cuban-beef-and-porkadd-the-cornbread-stuffinfadd-the-raisins-to-the-cuban-stuffinf

Once browned add all of the herbs and spices and mix well. Do not add salt. Both the ground ham and the olives add plenty of natural sodium. Trust me on this!! Next add the package of cornbread stuffing and combine thoroughly.  At this point you can finally add the ham stirring to combine, and then go ahead and toss in the almonds, olives, and raisins. You can always add more to taste (of everything) and this part is really up to you- that’s the fun part of cooking and tasting =P. The raisin, almond, and olive trio really does add lots of flavor and is reminiscent of delicious picadillo.

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If you are making the Cuban stuffing a day in advance allow the dish to cool before placing it in the refrigerator. If you stuff the bird with the Cuban stuffing it does not require any stock to keep moist, but when you are reheating for a thanksgiving or holiday meal, you will want to slowly add hot stock of your choice and blend well. If the Cuban stuffing becomes too wet simply add more of the cornbread stuffing. I always buy two bags just in case. This year we placed the Cuban stuffing in a crockpot on low to warm a few hours before everyone came over and it was perfect and delicious. I’d say this version makes around 16-18 cups. Cuban stuffing is surely to become a holiday staple and thanksgiving must.

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