Arroz Con Pollo, A Delicious Tradition
A whole chicken, cut up into parts, was what went into arroz con pollo, this iconic dish that is traditional for us Texas Mexicans, Mexicanos, Mexican Americans, Chicanos. I prefer to call myself a Chicano. We were also called pochos by some, and “greasers” by others. As a boy, I grew up with all these names surrounding me, some in English, some in Spanish, all the while nourished and sustained by this dish, enjoying it immensely.
Arroz, by any other name …
The two languages of conquest, English and Spanish, moved around me from label to label. Even though we lost our indigenous language, our food remained our own creation, defining and celebrating our identity. My amá made it regularly, browning the chicken, rocking spices in the molcajete, filling the kitchen with flavor-some aromas. Some of the flavoring ingredients are originally from Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean, brought here by Europeans: rice, black pepper, garlic, and cumin.
But as I cook the dish in my kitchen, I find the sense of it to be indigenous. Boiling and stewing are old techniques that started with stone boiling, the culinary technique invented by our native ancestors, pictured below.
The tomato and chile provide the dominant flavor theme in the profile. They envelop all the ingredients, giving the dish the taste that identifies it as ours. The techniques employed in cooking this dish are a continuation of the techniques used since our earliest days on this land: grinding, blending, boiling, and perking it up with some fat. Knowing my mother, I can easily see someone like her using these same techniques 600 or 2,000 years ago to make a stew that would have, and did, combine a bird with judicious use of grain, roots, spices, tomatoes, chiles, and some fat.
Recipe for Arroz Con Pollo
adapted from the cookbook, “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
3 pounds chicken, cut up into parts
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups rice
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup water
4 tomatoes, diced (about 3/4 pound)
1 white onion, thin slices
1 green chile dulce (bell pepper), 1/4-inch–1/2-inch wide slices
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
1. Place the garlic, cumin, and black pepper in the molcajete and grind into a paste. Add 1/4 cup water and mix. Set aside.
2. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the canola oil and brown the chicken in batches. Place the browned chicken on paper towels. Remove all but 2
tablespoons of the fat from the pan.
3. Add the rice, onion, and chile dulce, and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the browned chicken, tomatoes, salt, the molcajete paste, and 4 cups water.
Mix so that the ingredients are combined, scraping the bottom to remove browned bits. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30
This is a classic Texas Mexican dish that in any language says “wholesome, delicious.”