One of my dear heart-friends is Puerto Rican. . . and Lebanese, and married to a Cuban – who is from Spain, but all that stuff is beside the point except for the Puerto Rican and heart-friend parts.
A couple years ago she and her girls came over on a rainy summer afternoon and she fixed us Arroz con Pollo, (rice with chicken), for lunch. I fell in love. With the meal, not her. Well, maybe with her too, but that was more of a friends-forever kind of crush, not a deeply-in-love with food kind of crush.
She taught me how to make the super easy chicken and rice dish, and beans, and a couple of other mouth-watering “rescue-me-on-an-over-scheduled-school-night” kind of Puerto Rican staples. Our entire family looks forward to these meals like they look forward to tacos, or pizza night, or take-out Chinese. That’s a pretty sweet deal.
Over time, that original Arroz con Pollo has morphed into something a little bit different that caters to our family’s preferences, so I feel it’s a bit inaccurate to call it by that name. When I asked my friend what it might be called, she suggested Asopao, ( a soup, stew, or gumbo), as a possibility. After looking it up, I think that’s pretty accurate. I tack on the “maybe” at the end mostly because I am not Puerto Rican, and if this recipe somehow breaks Asopao rules or my technique is off, I don’t want to offend anybody. In our house though, that’s what we will be calling it.
We make ours like soup. I add in beans because the baby likes those, I keep the chicken because everybody likes that. I cook the rice separately and pour the soup over individual servings because, as far as leftovers go, I don’t like the rice to turn to mush. The veggies in this are pureed (sofrito), so nobody gripes about veggie-chunks. It’s just pretty much perfect to suit a family with six different palates.
Thank you my dear-heart-friend, for giving us a double thumbs up meal that everyone will eat, with no complaining!
Asopao. . .( maybe)
makes 8-10 generous servings
2 cups uncooked jasmine rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 to 1 cup Sofrito depending on your taste (recipe follows)
58 to 64 ounces Chicken Broth (I use Swanson. You can go with two 32 oz. cartons, or four 14.5 oz cans)
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 envelope Sazon seasoning with Coriander and Annatto (the orange/orange box by Goya)
3 or 4 uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 14 oz can black or white beans
Kosher salt, black pepper, and to taste
Green olives (optional – only some of us like these, so I usually just leave them out and add them to individual servings)
Avacado, (optional) sliced length-wise
Prepare jasmine rice according to package directions. While the rice is cooking, heat olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sofrito and cook for a minute or two. Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, Sazon, and chicken breast. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partly covered for about 30 minutes. When the chicken is cooked through and easily shred-able, remove from pot and shred into large chunks. Return to pot. Add beans. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.
For each serving, dish rice into a bowl, spoon soup over the top, add olives, avacado, and/or tobasco if desired.
Sofrito is a key ingredient in this recipe. It is one of the most useful and versatile concoctions I have ever cooked with, and it might seem slightly silly to people who were raised eating/using it, but this was a big-time revelation to me. It is now an ingredient I keep around at all times so that I can use a little here and there whenever the opportunity strikes.
The amount of each ingredient in sofrito can easily be altered to fit your tastes. The following recipe is how I make it. I love cilantro, so I use a full bunch, and we like garlic, so we use three cloves. You can add or subtract whatever you want until it tastes how you want it to taste.
If you will be using sofrito frequently you can store it in a glass jar or a plastic container and keep it in your fridge. If you will be using it less frequently, you can freeze it in small portions in mini-muffin tins, or in an ice-cube tray. When it’s fully frozen, remove the cubes and store them in the freezer either in a plastic container or a plastic freezer bag.
1 green bell pepper, washed, stem removed, and quartered
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 bunch of cilantro (give or take)
Combine first three ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly chopped. (It’s up to you how chunky you want it. I choose to make it very fine). Add desired amount of cilantro to chopped mixture and pulse until the cilantro is chopped and mixture is combined.