What is Arroz Con Pollo?

Cassie L. Damewood

Arroz con pollo when translated from Spanish into English means rice with chicken. It is popular throughout many Caribbean and Latin American countries, most notably in Costa Rica, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, along with Columbia, Cuba, Peru and Panama. Although most of these countries’ inhabitants claim the dish originated with their ancestors, its roots are most often traced back to Spain.

Arroz con pollo is often flavored with coriander.
Arroz con pollo is often flavored with coriander.

Regardless of its country of origin, the ingredients in arroz con pollo are fairly standard. They generally include chicken, rice, beer, chicken or vegetable stock, saffron and sofrito, along with bay leaf, cumin and coriander to add spiciness to the dish. Sofrito is a common Spanish staple food, which is a mixture of garlic, sweet and hot peppers and onions sautéed in olive oil. In some recipes, the saffron is replaced by paprika or annatto seeds, which come from the achiote plant and impart a slightly peppery flavor to dishes.

Annatto seeds, which are used to make arroz con pollo.
Annatto seeds, which are used to make arroz con pollo.

Historical accounts of arroz con pollo state that after the Moors invaded Spain in 711, they migrated toward the Strait of Gibraltar, a coastal region in southern Spain that made the exchange of goods through the local ports easy. They reportedly imported many exotic spices, including saffron, one of the distinguishing ingredients in arroz con pollo. This fact, along with the inclusion in the recipe of colorful vegetables favored by the Moors, further supports the theory that they created the original arroz con pollo dish.

Arborio rice is used in arroz con pollo.
Arborio rice is used in arroz con pollo.

The use of cumin and coriander in most arroz con pollo recipe ingredients also points to the Moors as the likely creators of the dish, as these spices were available to them before most other cultures. Moorish custom also leaned heavily toward communal, family-style dining. Since this dish is traditionally served from a pot passed around the table, historians point to this ritual as supporting the premise that arroz con pollo originated with the Moors.

To make arroz con pollo, Latin American cooks rub the chicken with cumin, pepper, and other spices.
To make arroz con pollo, Latin American cooks rub the chicken with cumin, pepper, and other spices.

There are almost as many arroz con pollo recipes as there are cultural groups who claim the original dish as their own. The basic steps typically start with heating the saffron, annatto seeds or paprika in olive oil and then browning the parts of a cut up chicken. Most recipes recommend marinating the chicken in adobo, a spicy marinade available at Latin markets, for 24 hours prior to cooking.

Arroz con pollo is made with liberal amounts of olive oil.
Arroz con pollo is made with liberal amounts of olive oil.

After the chicken is browned on all sides, and the annatto seeds are removed, if applicable, the bay leaf and sofrito are added to the skillet and stirred into the chicken parts. Arborio rice is added to the skillet, along with beer and broth, and the mixture is cooked until the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Different recipes either recommend covering the pan or leaving it uncovered during the last step.

Many restaurants in the old section of Havana offer arroz con pollo, a traditional Cuban dish.
Many restaurants in the old section of Havana offer arroz con pollo, a traditional Cuban dish.

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