Out of the blue, a request for pigeon peas and rice with crispy chicken came my way. As you know, I fell in love with this dish back in Western Mass, and, since moving, have craved it frequently. Not long ago, I produced an amazing Pernil but did not follow through with the rice. True to my Texas upbringing I aim to please, however, so I set my fears of disappointment aside and cooked a chicken and rice dinner inspired by the flavors of Arroz con Gandules.
Mistakenly assuming I had a can of pigeon peas in my pantry, I ended up making my version of this scrumptious rice dish with green lentils, which, surprisingly, I like better than the traditional pigeon peas. Lentils. Always stock your pantry with them!
There was still that something missing, but this is the best batch of arroz con
gandules lentils I’ve cooked yet! Maybe it’s the seasoned rice pot my coworkers cooked their version of this dish in or that crisp fall New England air that my memory is just too attached to to truly enjoy this dish anywhere other than Western Mass. I’m not sure exactly what it is but there’s always something not quite on point with my reconstruction of this dish. If I keep practicing, then who knows? Maybe one day I’ll pull the lid off my Dutch Oven and the aroma wafting up will transport me back to 2011 in my old back yard lifting the tin foil off an aluminum baking pan, like a Christmas present, finally exposing the glorious golden rice beneath, and, when I shove a heaping fork full of fluffed rice into my mouth, trying in vain not to drop any bacon or olives on my kitchen floor, the taste and texture of my arroz con gandules will finally be just right. Or, maybe it’ll just forever leave me wanting.
Sometimes, however, one just has to savor what’s available in the moment, even if it isn’t quite meeting expectations, while feeling grateful for the memories of shared experiences in new places with new people that expand the spices and ingredients of our kitchens. Sometimes close has to be good enough.
FYI: I love eating this comforting rice dish for a couple of days, as it just keeps tasting better. So, reduce the measurements, if you don’t want leftovers. Also, I cooked the thighs separately from the rice to ensure crispy skin, but you can easily adapt this recipe and cook the chicken and rice together.
4 skin on, bone in chicken thighs
1 tsp adobo season salt
1/2 jar recaito cooking base
1/2 cup water
2 cups medium grain rice
1 jar sofrito
8 – 10 pimento stuffed green olives
2 packets sazon con culantro y anchiote
2 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 green bell pepper, trimmed and diced
1/2 cup dried green lentils or 1 can pigeon peas
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven 350 degrees
Heat a large Dutch Oven over high flame. Add in the diced bacon and cook until golden and crispy, about 5 – 8 minutes. Add in the bell pepper, sazon, cumin seeds, and dried lentils then continue to cook until the bell pepper is tender, a few minutes longer. Add in next the jar of sofrito and the two cups of rice. Stir frequently until the rice has completely absorbed the sofrito, about 3 minutes. Add in the olives and chicken stock. Bring up to a boil and stir every couple of minutes so the rice doesn’t stick. Continue until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Reduce flame to its lowest setting and cover with the lid. Steam the rice on low 30 – 45 minutes, depending on the texture of rice you prefer. Rest the rice uncovered 5 – 10 minutes before fluffing.
Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet over a med high flame. Coat the chicken thighs in the adobo seasoning and a bit of black pepper. Set aside. To the skillet add a thin layer of olive oil and heat about a minute until shimmering. Carefully place the seasoned chicken thighs skin down in the hot oil and sear until the skin easily releases from the bottom of the skillet and is golden brown, about 8 – 10 minutes. Flip the chicken, add in the recaito and water, turn off the flame and finish the thighs in the oven until an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees is reached, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately with the fluffed rice.