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Mi Cerveza Es Mejor Que Tu Cerveza

September 27, 2010


I’ve been asked recently why I am making food with beer that is difficult to obtain (namely Stone Smoked Porter w/ Chipotle Peppers [silver medalist at GABF, by the way] and Double Bastard Ale).  Ok, folks.  I am nothing if not a responsive blogger.  Last week I brought home some Stone Pale Ale, Stone’s flagship beer and undoubtedly one of the easiest to find.  This beer is a total classic.  It has a smooth malt profile, with biscuity notes as it warms up, and the hop profile is relatively mild (well, mild in grand scheme of things, anyway).  This beer could take a lot of shapes and contribute a lot of flavors to many a dish.  Subtler beers are wonderful in that way–they can be molded, and will conform to the flavor profile you are looking to create with your cooking.  Of course, this present a problem for those of us who are clinically indecisive.  I suffer from the plight of too many options.  I weighed this problem heavily in my mind for a couple days and decided to stick with last week’s cultural theme.  I made food from the land of the boyfriend’s people– it was time to represent my own rich heritage.  So travel with me to la isla de Cuba!

I chose to make Arroz con Pollo, a traditional Spanish dish that is extremely popular in Cuba.  It’s a classic one pot meal that includes sauteed chicken, herbed rice, and vegetables.  This is something that mi abuela and my mom have been making for years: total comfort food for me.  I’ve been adjusting their recipe over the years, adding and subtracting where I see fit, and have landed on the one below.  I’ve always used beer in this recipe, but this is the first time I used anything other than a Mexican lager.  The result was fantastic!!!  Whereas before the beer added a bit of color and flavor to the cooking liquid, the addition of Stone Pale Ale brought a depth of flavor I’ve never experienced in this dish.  The malt really shined through, giving the rice an almost bread-like flavor.  And the hops gave it a slightly bitter edge that complimented the vegetables’ bright crispness.  I have no qualms bragging about my arroz con pollo to whomever will listen on a regular basis, but this definitely was the best batch I’ve made yet.  Never again will a lifeless lager touch this dish by my hand.  Now that I know the potential that can be attained when using quality, malty beer, that is exactly what I will do.  Alright, enough gabbing–here’s the lowdown on this epic, Cuban entree.

Arroz Con Pollo
8 chicken thighs (I used boneless and skinless, but the chicken stays a bit moister if you use bone-in with skin)
Salt, pepper, and cumin to season chicken
Olive oil for frying
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, mashed
2 c. Stone Pale Ale
3 c. chicken broth
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
3 c. uncooked white rice
1/2 c. frozen peas

Season the chicken with cumin salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet and brown the seasoned chicken on both sides.
Remove browned chicken from the pan and add a bit more olive oil.  Saute onion and bell pepper in the olive oil until vegetables are soft and translucent.  Add mashed garlic and cook for another minute until fragrant.

In a large covered pot or dutch oven, combine beer, chicken broth, tomato sauce, bay leaf and spices.

Add browned chicken pieces and sauteed vegetables to the mixture.  Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the rice, and bring back to a boil.

Reduce heat.  When the rice has absorbed a bit of the liquid, cover and allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes, until rice is fully cooked and the mixture is not soupy.  Add frozen peas in the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Notes: This one isn’t as easy to vegetize successfully.  But one thing I’ve done that approximates the recipe is this: Drain and press a block of extra-firm tofu to remove all liquid.  Cut the tofu block crosswise into 8 pieces.  Proceed as directed from the sauteed vegetables stage, substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth.  Cook rice and veggies in spiced liquid as indicated.  About 15 minutes before the rice is done cooking, blend the spices used for the chicken in with about 1/2 cup flour.   Dredge the tofu slices in the flour, and fry until golden in a hot pan with olive oil.  When you add the peas to the rice, add the fried tofu as well (this will allow it to absorb some flavor, but prevents it from getting soggy).  The same can be done with prepared seitan, instead.  Again, make sure that you don’t add the seitan too early; mushy seitan is the worst.

Also, I used a separate pan to cook the vegetables and the chicken, and then prepared the whole dish in the dutch oven.  It is preferable if you can brown the chicken and veggies in the same pot you will ultimately cook the rice in, as this allows the delightfully browned bits from the pan to mix in with the whole dish.  My dutch oven just isn’t big enough , unfortunately.

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