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Peruvian rice and chicken shines bright with flavor and practicality

Annie Petito, America's Test Kitchen on

Peruvian arroz con pollo originated in the seaside city of Chiclayo as arroz con pato, where it featured native duck and chicha de jora, a fermented corn beer that dates to the Inca Empire. Over time, Peruvians adapted to the lack of, or expense of, these ingredients by swapping in chicken and malty beer. The one-pot meal of succulent chicken parts and savory, fluffy rice enhanced by a colorful mix of vegetables, aromatics, and spices is a darling of Latin American kitchens at large.

What makes the Peruvian version distinct? Its green color. The greenish cast comes from a substantial infusion of pureed cilantro that, along with the dark beer, spices and aderezo (the flavorsome base of sauteed red onion, garlic, and sometimes spices or ají amarillo that is foundational in Peruvian cooking), imbue the rice with incredible depth.

Peruvian Arroz con Pollo

Serves 4 to 6

Arroz con pollo:

2 cups (2 ounces) fresh cilantro leaves and stems

1/2 cup water

6 (5- to 7-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed

2 1/4 teaspoons table salt, divided

3/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 red onion, chopped fine

1 to 2 tablespoons ají amarillo paste

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 cups dark beer

2 cups chicken broth, plus extra as needed

1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed

 

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces (1 cup)

1/2 cup frozen peas

Sarza Criolla:

1 red onion, halved and sliced through root end 1/16-inch thick

1/8 teaspoon table salt, plus salt for salting onion

1⁄1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1. FOR THE SARZA CRIOLLA: Toss onion and 1/2 teaspoon table salt in strainer or colander set over bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes. Rinse onion under cold water and pat dry. Combine onion, cilantro, lime juice, pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl. (Sarza criolla can be made up to 1 hour ahead.)

2. FOR THE ARROZ CON POLLO: Process cilantro and water in blender until cilantro is finely chopped and very loose puree forms, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of blender jar as needed; set aside.

3. Pat chicken dry and sprinkle both sides with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook, without moving, until well browned, 8 to 12 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken and brown on second side, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to a large plate.

4. Add onion, chile paste, garlic, cumin, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt to fat left in pot and cook, stirring often, until onion is softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add beer, scraping up any browned bits. Cook until mixture is almost dry, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro puree and return chicken to pot, skin side up (chicken will be almost entirely above surface of liquid). Adjust heat to maintain simmer, cover, and cook until chicken registers at least 195 degrees, 18 to 20 minutes.

5. Using tongs, transfer chicken to a clean plate and tent with aluminum foil. Transfer cooking liquid and solids to a 4-cup liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Add enough broth to measure 3 1/2 cups. Return broth mixture to pot and stir in rice, bell pepper, and carrots. Bring to boil, adjust heat to maintain simmer, cover, and cook until rice is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

6. Off heat, stir in peas (browning at bottom of rice is OK). Arrange chicken on top of rice and pour any accumulated juices into pot. Cover and let stand until peas and chicken are warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve, passing sarza criolla separately.

(For 25 years, home cooks have relied on America’s Test Kitchen for rigorously tested recipes developed by professional test cooks and vetted by 60,000 at-home recipe testers. The family of brands — which includes Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country — offers reliable recipes for cooks of all skill levels. See more online at www.americastestkitchen.com/TCA.)

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