I tend to feel extremely patriotic on this date in history, hence the following story and recipe:
Years ago, my big, fat, Cuban family moved to a sleepy peanut-butter-and-jelly neighborhood in Anaheim, California. Our house was at the end of a cul-de-sac where the other families had been living forever. They had their own neighborhood traditions, including a 4th of July Block Party. Life was predictable and quiet and everyone liked it that way, thank-you very much.
And then…. The Cuban Family moved in.
We had moved in at the beginning of summer and were still unpacking boxes when the invitation came. We were invited to participate in the Annual 4th of July Block Party and Potluck.
“Potluck?” (actually it sounded more like “PAAT – LOK?” but that’s not important right now.) My mom didn’t understand. “Que es eso?” (“What is that?”)
We tried to carefully explain that everyone in the neighborhood literally brought something to the table. We would share the food. Everyone was expected to bring something.
“De todo un poco.” My dad simplified. (“A little bit of everything.”)
My mom took great pains deciding what she would make to share with our new neighbors. And if it was something to be shared as part of celebrating this great country’s independence, well, it should be something Grand. Possibly even Regal.
She felt she had to make something wonderful. Like our adopted country, The Dish was to be something Magnificent, (not to mention delicious), it had to be Cuban, and it was meant to impress. She wanted to give our neighbors the very best The Cuban Family had to offer. It took a while to prepare (I have shortened the recipe since then), but the outcome was well worth it.
We made a wonderful impression. As it turned out, The Cuban Family was generous and welcoming and so patriotic! Who knew? 😉
What did she finally make for that fabled potluck? Well, my mom made Arroz Imperial. And it was such a hit that she made it every single 4th of July for the next twenty years. The neighbors came to look forward to her signature dish. In fact, from then on, she would only make it for the Annual 4th of July Block Party and Potluck.
I offer it to you today in Remembrance and I leave you with the thought that this is what makes America great:
“De todo un poco.”
3 lbs. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs
1 small yellow onion – diced
1/2 green bell pepper – seeded and diced
4 large garlic cloves – finely chopped
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup dry white wine
Goya seasoning – with Saffron (or Bijol to color the rice)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small can asparagus pieces (drained)
1 small jar diced pimientos (drained)
1 small can tender green peas
2 cups parboiled rice (I like Uncle Ben’s Converted – NOT Instant)
4 cups chicken stock
1 small jar Best Foods Real Mayonnaise (Yes, I know. Mayonnaise. Just trust me on this one.)
1 8 oz. jar Grated Parmesan and Romano Cheese
1) Wash chicken, pat dry and sprinkle with garlic powder.
2) In a large cauldron or heavy bottom dish, brown the chicken on all sides in olive oil.
3) Move browned chicken to a platter and set aside.
4) In the same cauldron, make a sofrito, by sautéing together in olive oil over medium heat: the onion, garlic, and bell pepper until the pepper is soft and the onion is translucent.
5) Add tomato sauce, white wine, goya seasoning, pimientos, asparagus and chicken.
6) Cover and simmer about 30 to 40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked.
7) Remove cooked chicken, set aside again and allow it to cool.
8) Divide the sofrito mixture in half.
9) Take half of the sofrito and add the rice and chicken stock. Cook, UNCOVERED, on medium high heat until most of the liquid is absorbed – about 15 to 20 minutes.
10) Reduce heat to low, COVER, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender – about 10 minutes.
11) While the rice is cooking, cut up (okay, fine. Use your hands. =D) the cooked and cooled chicken into small bite-size pieces.
12) Add the rest of the sofrito mixture and the peas to the chicken pieces.
13) Preheat oven to 350.
14) In a casserole dish, layer the following in this order: about a half inch of rice, then the chicken mixture, (flattening with a spoon as you go), another layer of rice, a light layer of mayonnaise, sprinkle grated cheese, chicken, rice, mayonnaise, cheese.
15) Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and chicken/rice is hot.
This makes a lot, so there’s sure to be “un poco para todos.” =D