Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo

This is my comfort food. When ever we had a special occasion, my mother would make this recipe. My sister and I are home to visit? Arroz con pollo. The day after Christmas? Arroz con pollo. This, like my pernil recipe, comes from Carmen Valldejuli’s Cocina Criolla (here in English). I recently made it for one of our friend-family dinners, and it was a hit even for the pickiest eater in the group. In this version I’ve kicked up the spices to make it extra savory.

The recipe in its original form calls for ajíes dulces and culantro. These are not readily available ingredients in most markets.  I found the ajíes (a small, savory and slightly sweet green pepper, about the size of a super large hatch pepper but without any of the spice) in the local Hispanic market in Mt. Pleasant here in DC. If you’re unable to come upon any ajíes, I’d simply double the green pepper quotient. And be careful which you buy, the Peruvian ajíes are super spicy! Puerto Rican food is pretty much never spicy, so unless you want this dish to be that way, be mindful of which you come across.

Ajíes dulces

ajíes dulces


Culantro, on the other hand, I found at the H-Mart in Fairfax, VA, an amazeballs Korean supermarket that carries a wide variety of specialty produce. Culantro is not cilantro, it’s like its more savory cousin, and I don’t actually recommend subbing them. If you can’t find it, I would simply omit it and make sure you use one of the Goya seasoning packets that includes culantro. (Aside: my husband is one of those unfortunate humans who simply cannot palate cilantro or culantro. He thinks it tastes like soap. But when I cooked it in he couldn’t even tell it was there!)

culantro, not cilantro

culantro, not cilantro

This yields 8 servings, so it makes delicious leftovers or is perfect for a large gathering. It’s a bit time consuming but most of it is spent waiting for the rice to cook. ¡Buen provecho!

Arroz con pollo

1 whole chicken, cleaned and split into pieces, of about 3 pounds total
2 1/2 pounds of chicken pieces, preferably thighs and breasts, skin and bone included
8 boneless/skinless chicken thighs

3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
4 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice

1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 tomato, diced
3-4 ajíes dulces, diced
4-5 culantro leaves, roughly chopped

3 ounces bacon, diced
~10 olives stuffed with pimentos
1 Tbsp capers
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 or 2 Goya or Knorr sazón packets with achiote and culantro
1 can of small sweet peas or Petit-Pois

3 cups of short grain rice
2 1/2 cups of water (including the liquid from the peas)

Clean and rinse the chicken, then pat it dry with paper towels.

Grind together the ingredients for the Adobo (B) in a mortar and pestle (or food processor/blender/bowl and blunt end of an ice cream scooper) and rub it all over the chicken pieces. If this is looking thin to you, grab some Goya adobo and shake it on! (We always have this on hand, it’s great on burgers, shrimp, you name it!)

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, like a Dutch oven. Quickly brown the bacon bits. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer, being careful not to crowd the pan too much. If you have more chicken than will fit, brown the chicken in batches over medium-high heat. When all the chicken is browned but not cooked through, add the entirety of it to the pan along with the ingredients of the Picadillo (C) and stir-fry this along with another 1/2 tsp of salt, until the onions are softened.

While the vegetables are cooking down, drain the can of peas over a measuring cup and add enough water to measure 2 1/2 cups of liquid. Set the peas aside to add them later.

Once the onions are softened, add the capers and olives along with the tomato sauce and spice packet(s) (and achiote powder, if you have this on hand. If so, throw in a teaspoon or so for good measure). Stir well.

Stir in the 3 cups of rice and let cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Then add the liquid and stir well.

Put the pot over medium heat and let it boil with the lid off without touching the rice. As soon as the rice has dried and there is almost no liquid left at the top of the pan, lower the flame to low heat and carefully turn the rice, so that what was on the bottom is now on the top. Be careful not to stir too much, and just do your best, this doesn’t have to be perfect. A large fork inserted around the edge of the pot is good for this task.

Place a lid on the pot and let it cook for about 20-30 minutes. During this time, change the position of the rice one more time. (Or don’t, and let the rice get burnt and sticky on the bottom, what in Puerto Rico we call pegao, aka my favorite food of all time.)

Uncover the pot after 20-30 minutes have gone by and stir in the peas. Cover and let cook for 10-15 more minutes.

Serve immediately!


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