Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Vacation Inspiration

How could I write a post about how good the food was in Costa Rica and not want to imitate it?  Certainly the flavors of Latin America still resonate with me long after I have traded the tropical rainforest for the bitter New York winter.

While everything I ate at Rancho Pacifico was delicious and inspiring, my mind keeps traveling back to that Corcovado picnic and the arroz con pollo on the buffet.  I can still taste how delicious it was, and how the beautiful setting made it even more delicious.  I never got a recipe, but I do remember many of the ingredients.  There were carrots and peppers and corn and black beans.  I tasted cilantro and garlic and onion.  There were peas, but the pea flavor wasn't strong and didn't contaminate the rest of the dish.  It was sweet.  I don't know what made it sweet, but it was.  Would the recipe be impossible to replicate?  I decided I had to find out.

I spent some time looking up recipes for Costa Rican arroz con pollo.  There are more variations than I could have imagined.  I learned that while carrots are typical in Costa Rican arroz con pollo dishes, they are unique to Costa Rica and variations from other countries rarely contain carrots, if ever. Seasonings and ingredients varied from recipe to recipe and I couldn't find one that was wholly similar to the one I had.  

I regret that I did not buy a bottle of Lizano sauce while I was there.  It is a standard Costa Rican condiment - the ketchup of Costa Rica - made from spices and vegetables.  I don't know if it was present in the dish I ate that day (it's considered a condiment, so it would be more likely to be used on the dish after it was finished), but I thought it might help my version taste more authentic.  Just like the recipes for arroz con pollo are not consistent with each other, recipes for homemade Lizano sauce are not consistent with each other.

I found most recipes called for annatto (achiote).  This is available stateside, but not in very many places.  I would have to improvise that as well.

I finally came up with substitutions.  I mixed molasses, tomato paste, vinegar, chili powder, and paprika for my Lizano.  I used packets of Goya Sazon, which contains annatto so I had that flavor as well.

I deviated even more by using brown rice.  I'm not on vacation anymore.  I need to be healthy.  If you want to make it using white rice, just use the typical cooking times for white rice (simmer 20 minutes and let sit for another 5 off the heat).

I started the recipe by poaching chicken thighs.  When they were done, I used the resulting stock to cook the rice.  I flavored it with the Sazon.  

I cooked my vegetables and beans separately, flavoring them with the tomato and molasses mixture.  I substituted green beans for the peas in my vegetables because why use peas if you don't have to?  When everything was cooked, I threw it all together with lots of cilantro and some lime juice.

Was it as good as what I had in Costa Rica?  Not by a long shot!  It was still pretty tasty though.

Arroz con Pollo de Cocinera Loca

  • 2 pounds chicken thighs
  • 2 cups long grain brown rice
  • 3 packets Sazon Goya
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 3 small yellow onions, finely diced (or one large one)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots finely diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 15 oz can black beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 10 oz package frozen cut green beans
  • 1 10 oz package frozen corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 Tbl white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 good handful chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lime
Place the chicken in a large pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, skimming off the foam.  Cover the pot and remove from heat. Let sit one hour.  Remove chicken from pot and skim off any excess fat from the cooking liquid.  Add enough water to make 4 1/2 cups.  Mix in Sazon packets.  Bring to a boil and add rice.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes until rice is tender.  Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes or until all water is absorbed.

Meanwhile skin and bone the chicken thighs.  Set aside.

Heat oil in a large deep skillet.  Add onion and cook until soft over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook another minute.  Add the carrots and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the peppers and cook until they soften as well.  Finally add the corn, black beans, and string beans.  

Mix together the molasses, tomato paste, vinegar, chili powder, and paprika.  Add it to the vegetables in the pan and stir to coat.  Cook until it is all heated through.  Add salt to taste.

Add the vegetables, chicken, cilantro, and lime juice to the pot with the rice.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Serve garnished with additional cilantro if desired.

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