Rice with Chicken
Published by Chronicle
Rice dishes often draw on various, sometimes disparate, flavors. Not this one. This is rice cooked with chicken. No seafood, rabbit, or pork. No artichokes or wild mushrooms. Just chicken. And though seafood, rabbit, or pork would make lovely additions, sometimes one wants just chicken. And this dish draws out its flavor to the fullest. To make it richer and denser, drop a small handful of toasted almonds or hazelnuts into the picada.
Saffron Threads Preparation: Saffron is a defining element of paella. It brings its characteristic warm and fresh aroma, and, significantly, tints the rice a delicate golden color. It is the world’s most expensive spice. Cultivation is a delicate process, collecting is difficult, and it takes some 70,000 flowers to yield a pound of saffron. Introduced into Spain around A.D. 900 by Arab traders, it was cultivated in Spain by A.D. 960. (The Spanish word for saffron, azafrán, comes from the Arabic za’faran.) Saffron is largely grown in the central La Mancha region, whose extreme conditions-hot summers, cold winters-are ideal for giving strength to the color and pungency to the aroma. La Mancha is a registered denominación de origen; look for the “D.O. Azafrán de la Mancha” label. Buy only threads and not powder, which may have been adulterated.
To draw out saffron’s full culinary potential, the threads need to be slightly toasted and crumbled before they are added to a rice dish. Toast the threads in a small dry skillet over low heat for a few minutes until they turn a shade darker. Remove them immediately, and then either crumble them in a small piece of paper or pound them in a mortar. If using a mortar, be sure to swirl a bit of water around inside after pounding to get every last bit of saffron dust.
Most restaurants, and many home cooks, use a powdered colorante (usually a mix of cornstarch, salt, and yellow dye) to give their paella the dish’s characteristic golden color. Though eschewed by purists, colorante does not carry a heavy stigma in Spain and its use is not generally looked down upon around most tables. Colorante gives the rice an artificially bright yellow tone. Do not try to make a paella yellower by simply adding more saffron. Too much saffron can give the rice a bitter, almost medicinal flavor. Two pinches of good-quality threads-20 to 30 total-is enough for a paella for 6.
To Grate Tomatoes:. Simply cut the tomato in half crosswise, and run a finger through the seed cavity, scraping most of the seeds out. Then, cupping the tomato in your hand, slowly grate on a box grater. The skin will gradually peel back as the flesh is grated away, leaving only a flattened skin in your palm. (Discard the skin.) This technique doesn’t waste precious pulp. In winter when good, flavorful fresh tomatoes are hard to find, canned whole tomatoes can be used. Strain them, reserving the liquid (to add later to the cooking sofrito), and finely chop.
Total Timeunder 2 hours
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationegg-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free
Taste and Textureherby, meaty, rich, savory
- 1 whole free-range organic chicken (about 3 pounds)
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, cut in half
- 1 celery rib
- 8 to 12 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves stripped, and stems and leaves reserved separately
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 peppercorns
- 9½ cups water
- Freshly ground pepper
- 4 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped or coarsely grated (see Notes)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- ½ teaspoon sweet pimenton
- 2 pinches saffron threads (about 20), lightly toasted and ground (see Notes)
- 3 cups short or medium grain rice
Disjoint the chicken, reserving the back and neck. Trim off some of the fat, but leave the skin intact. Chop the chicken with a cleaver into 12 to 24 small pieces. Carefully pick out any bone shards.
In a stockpot, Dutch oven, or another large heavy pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the back, neck, one third of the onion, and the carrot and cook until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 5 minutes, until they release their juices. Add the celery, parsley stems, bay leaf, peppercorns, 2 pinches of salt, and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid, discarding the solids.
While the stock is simmering, season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. In a large cazuela or medium Dutch oven or another heavy pot, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large platter.
Prepare the sofrito in the same pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the remaining onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and nearly translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and 2 pinches of salt and cook, stirring from time to time, until the tomato has darkened to a deeper shade of red and the sofrito is pasty, 10 to 15 minutes.
Return the chicken to the cazuela along with any juices from the platter, add 1 cup of liquid from the stockpot, and let simmer slowly over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the stock is ready.
Meanwhile, prepare the picada by pounding in a mortar the garlic and parsley leaves with 2 tablespoons of stock until you have a fine paste. Or whir them in a food processor or blender.
Sprinkle the pimentón and saffron into the cazuela, letting the flavors meld for a few seconds while stirring constantly. Add the remaining 8 cups of stock, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. Add the rice and spoon in the picada. With a wooden spoon, probe the pan to make sure the rice is evenly distributed.
Cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, gently stirring occasionally. Check for salt, adjusting the seasoning as needed. Reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 8 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al punto, with just a bite to it.
Remove the cazuela from the heat and immediately transfer the food to plates, letting the rice rest for a few minutes before serving.
2006 Jeff Koehler