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Mom’s Arroz con Pollo With Olives, Roasted Red Peppers and Asparagus

arroz con pollo Familia Kitchen

If you’re craving arroz con pollo—Puerto Rico’s super-hearty national comfort food—here’s a throwback recipe and food story of my mom’s delicious take on the dish.

If I found out that tomorrow is my last day on this earth, I’m ready: last meal-wise, it’s Mom’s arroz con pollo with pimento-stuffed olives, roasted red peppers, and asparagus. It takes me right back to childhood: to the island I grew up on.

Arroz con pollo makes me think of Puerto Rican mothers in Puerto Rican kitchens: my mother Marisa, and her mother, my grandmother Rocío, and her mother, my great-grandmother Antonia de los Angeles Travieso Nieva. She was born in 1885 and died during childbirth, in 1912, leaving six kids. They were parceled out to uncles and aunts across Puerto Rico and one back to Spain. I like to think that the ones in Puerto Rico were able to see each other every so often, over arroz con pollo Sunday dinners: sibling sustenance.

My great-grandmother, Antonia de los Angeles Travieso Nieva, 1885–1912.

When Mami made arroz con pollo, my sister and I would crowd in the kitchen and watch her brown the chicken—marinated overnight in garlic, salt, olive oil and red wine vinegar—in her big, metal caserola. She never premade sofrito, like my neighbor Doña Felipa does. She’d just saute onions, green pepper and garlic in a pan, add tomato, salt, pepper and cumin, and call it a day. Mami also did not use sazón packets like everyone else. She was anti-MSG and pro-low-salt, even way back in 1970s Puerto Rico. She’d use white rice only if guests were coming. She’d then add chicken stock (never water), a bay leaf, cilantro and olives—put the lid on: And that was that until los invitados sat down. On arroz con pollo nights, the house smelled amazing: garlic, green pepper, cumin.

My abuela, Rocío Servera Jiménez, in the 1920s or 1930s.

Her arroz con pollo ingrediento secreto? A can of asparagus she’d add at the last minute. Canned is key—the asparagus has this vinegary, concentrated, shriveled-savory-tart taste. Then she’d sprinkle a can of baby peas, diced roasted red pimento, and a last flourish of chopped cilantro.

The dish is foolproof. The guests ate every last bit. Back then, people smoked—never my mom, sometimes my dad. They’d all go take a cigarette and maybe a dance break and then come back to the table for brandy and Mom’s Always Requested Flan.

Marisa Caviness flan recipe Puerto Rico Familia Kitchen
Mom: Marisa Jiménez Caviness, 1970s.

Now I’m the one cooking arroz con pollo, and I will make it often for mom, when she comes to live with us next summer. I’ve tweaked our family recipe in three ways. One, I add white meat (Mom only uses thighs). Two, gracias to the many batches Doña Felipa and I made and froze, I start with thawed, pre-made sofrito. And three, I sneak in a packet of adobo achiote seasoning, to make it super-típico Puerto Rican and give it that traditional ruby-orange color and island sabor.

I know, MSG. Sorry, Mom.

Here is my slightly updated version of Mom’s family recipe, my last meal on earth.

Mom’s Arroz con Pollo with Olives, Red Peppers & Asparagus

Mom’s Arroz con Pollo with Olives, Roasted Red Peppers and Asparagus

4 from 3 votes
Recipe by Marisa Caviness Cuisine: Puerto Rican
Servings

8

servings
Prep time

20

minutes
Cooking time

45

minutes

Ingredients

  • Marinade for Chicken
  • 1/3 cup 1/3 olive oil

  • 3 Tbsp. 3 red wine vinegar

  • 4 to 6 cloves 4 to 6 garlic, pressed

  • 1 tsp. 1 salt

  • Arroz con Pollo Main Dish
  • 3 Tbsp. 3 olive oil

  • 2 2 chicken breasts, bone in, skin trimmed

  • 6 6 chicken thighs, bone in, skin trimmed

  • 1 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 1 green pepper, chopped

  • 1 1 cubanelle pepper, diced

  • 1 1 tomato, chopped

  • 2 tsp. 2 cumin

  • 4 to 6 cloves 4 to 6 garlic, chopped

  • 1 1 achiote sazón seasoning packet

  • 1 1 bay leaf

  • 3 cups 3 chicken stock, low sodium

  • 2 cups 2 rice, medium grain or arborio rice

  • 10 10 olives stuffed with pimento, sliced

  • 3 Tbsp. 3 cilantro, fresh, chopped coarsely

  • 15 oz. 15 asparagus spears, from a can

  • 8 oz. 8 peas

  • 4 oz. 4 roasted red peppers, diced

Directions

  • Cut each chicken breast in half, keeping the bone in. Toss the white and dark chicken pieces in a marinade of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and salt. Place in plastic zip bag and marinate in fridge overnight—or minimum 4 hours before cooking.
  • Place a large caserola or Dutch oven on the stovetop, medium low heat. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Brown chicken, in two batches, so as to not to crowd the pan. When browned on both sides, take the chicken out of pan and set aside on a plate.
  • To the pan’s brown bits, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, tomato, sazón with achiote and 1 tsp. cumin. Stir. Saute 5 minutes over low heat, stirring once or twice.
  • Place chicken back in. Stir. Saute all ingredients for 5 more minutes on low heat.
  • Add 3 cups chicken stock, stir, and bring to low boil. Add rice, olives and 1 tsp. cumin. Stir.
  • Bring back to a low boil. Cover and cook for about 18 minutes on low heat.
  • Take off burner, covered. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Remove lid, add cilantro. Fluff rice and chicken mixture. Taste. Add a dash of salt, if needed.
  • Open can of asparagus and drain. Lay spears across chicken and rice mixture, so that all the asparagus stems touch in the middle and the tips extend outward, like spokes in a wheel.
  • Sprinkle peas over the top layer of the chicken, rice and asparagus.
  • Sprinkle diced red pimento over the peas layer.
  • Sprinkle one last Tbsp. of fresh cilantro over all. Está listo!
  • Serve with a side salad of lettuce and tomato, dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and a touch of salt. Follow with Mom’s Always Requested Puerto Rican Flan.

Notes

  • Mom’s original recipe only uses thighs. My husband, son and I prefer white meat, so I chop up two bone-in breasts and add it to the dish.
  • Mom also sometimes takes the salty juice from the can of asparagus and adds it to the chicken stock total liquid. It makes it extra delicious.

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