After 41 weeks of depravity; no sushi, deli meats, coffee, alcohol, or a laundry list of other things, I was surprised that after the delivery of my son that the only thing I wanted in the entire world was my mom’s Arroz con Pollo. So it was that late at night, upon being checked out of the hospital, I sent my mom, a newly minted grandmother, to the store to make it so.
And it was soooo worth it.
I didn’t even feel guilty because it was everything I’ve ever needed. Rich and full of vitamins, flavorful and warm, I had forgotten what it was like to need my mommy, and my mommy delivered.
A couple of weeks later when I was back on my feet I realized that every version I have made has been a poor comparison to my mother’s version. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, but I knew that I had to learn how to make arroz con pollo like her because someday it would nurse my family back to health. It would cure booboos, mend broken hearts, and say, ‘I love you,’ without saying a word.
So, naturally, I asked my mom for her recipe. I got this fantastic text in response:
Great. Generations of perfecting the best arroz con pollo in the world, and it all boils down to a couple lines of text. Sigh… It’s partly my fault, I should haven’t asked via text, but still…
But then an amazing thing happened, I did exactly what the text said, and it WORKED!
Sometimes we over think things. We over complicate. We use fancy tools. We add excess. When really, sometimes the simplest answer is best.
The simplicity is why this dish works, and I recommend you share this with your family.
Arroz Con Pollo
- 1 whole Chicken, uncooked
- 3 tbsp Olive Oil
- 3 cloves minced Garlic, or to taste
- 1 Yellow Onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp Oregano, or to taste
- 1 tbsp Parsley, or to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- Spanish Rice (recipe here)
- Skin the chicken. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.
- Sauté the chicken in the pot with the garlic and onions until the chicken is browned on top and bottom.
- Generously season the chicken with salt, pepper, oregano and parsley. Add enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil. Partially cover with a lid and reduce heat to maintain a low boil. Cook until the chicken falls off the bone, flipping once, about 30 – 45 minutes total.
- Meanwhile, make the spanish rice.
- Once both are finished, add a large spoonful of rice to a bowl. Add a piece of the chicken (leg, thigh, breast, etc) to the bowl and cover generously with broth. Serve hot, with tortillas if desired.
- You could use Italian Seasoning in addition to or instead of Oregano or Parsley
- You could use chicken stock instead of water
- You could add chicken bouillon to the water for extra flavor
- You could add chopped carrots at the same time as the onions for a more American flavor
- You could remove the chicken from the pot once it is finished and debone it, then add it back to the pot. This is what I typically do.
- Store the soup and rice separately.
I am not sure why we have always called it Spanish Rice, when really it would be more aptly named Mexican Rice, but nomenclature aside, we have always served it as a side dish to pretty much everything at my house growing up. Fried chicken, enchiladas, lumpias, arroz con pollo, or even albondigas, you can pretty much always guarantee that there is either a fresh batch on the stove, or leftovers in the fridge.
My aunt likes to add frozen corn, peas and carrots to hers. My mom likes to use a halved onion, whereas I use chopped. My brother uses brown rice instead of white. Some use chicken bouillon, some use stock, some use water. Some use chopped tomatoes, others use tomato sauce. There are a million minute variations, but the essentials are: browning the rice, and adding a tomato-based seasoning.
- 2 tbsp oil of your choice, up to ¼ cup
- Vegetable Oil
- Olive Oil
- ½ large Yellow Onion
- chopped or peeled and halved, keeping the root intact
- 2 cups Long Grain White Rice
- 4 cups hot or boiling Liquid of your choice
- Chicken Stock
- Water with Chicken Bouillon
- Vegetable Stock
- 1 x 8 oz can Tomato Sauce
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Heat your choice of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. I almost always use a combination of olive oil and lard or bacon grease, or just olive oil.
- Add onion and rice. If you are adding chopped onions, just toss them in the pan. If the onion is halved, simply place the cut-side down, directly on the pan. You want the halved onion to maintain contact with the pain, and add the rice to be added around it.
- Brown the rice. Allow the rice to brown in the pan, stirring every couple minutes until the majority of the rice is a golden color. Do not rush this step.
- Once the rice is browned, added the hot or boiling liquid of your choice and ¾ a can of tomato sauce and stir. I almost always add water and a couple heading tablespoons of chicken bouillon. If you have chicken stock, this adds a lovely flavor, but I don’t find it very cost efficient. If you’re out of both, water works fine. If you’re a vegetarian, vegetable stock is an excellent alternative. I like to add most of the can of tomato sauce, reserving a small amount as a topping once the rice is done. This is a personal decision, you can absolutely add the entire can, and even rinse the can with your liquid to be added to the pan as well. My siblings use so much tomato sauce we always end up opening an extra can anyway.
- Bring to a boil, increasing the heat if necessary. Cover. Reduce heat to low, maintaining a low simmer. Allow to cook for 30 minutes.
- Cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. If there is still liquid, cover and cook longer, checking in 5-minute increments.
- Fluff the rice with a large wooden spoon or rice paddle (like this one at Amazon) and serve hot.
- I like to serve the rice the way my grandma liked it, topped with fresh chopped tomatoes and sliced hard boiled egg
- My sister likes to serve the rice topped with extra tomato sauce, directly from the can, and cotija cheese.
- My aunt likes to add 1 cup of frozen or canned peas, carrots and corn to her rice at the same time as the water. Or some combination of these veggies.
- I usually run a teapot on the back burner while browning the rice. Since I always keep a teapot on the back burner, this creates no extra dishes, but if you are using stock, then you’ll have an extra pot.
- My mom adds minced garlic to the pan with the onions.
- My mom adds 1 green onion stock to the pan right before covering it. This creates a nice, photogenic rice, but I am not sure how much flavor it adds.
I love enchiladas, but I never order them at restaurants. Of the many varieties I have witnessed, none ever compare to my grandmother’s. Soggy, drowned in sauce from a can, flour tortillas, filled with god-knows-what monstrosities, where only forks separate them from a burrito? No thank you.
I’m not going to say there is anything wrong with the more popular versions of enchiladas, they are just never what I am looking for. You can’t get the sauce out of a can, you can’t cover up a bad sauce with cheese, and you certainly can’t expect me to be happy with an enchilada in a flour tortilla.
I’m not saying there isn’t a gem out there on occasion, it’s just never worth the risk. The problem is that at it’s heart, enchiladas are an incredibly simple dish. There are less than a dozen ingredients, and while the process can be messy, the entire meal should be able to be made for less than $10 in under an hour, and should feed many.
This recipe was difficult to piece together because it didn’t come with any measurements. The language is a combination of my mother’s and grandmother’s with some heavy editing. I have made and remade this recipe often, recording my own measurements, but much of this is ‘to taste.’ It also took a while to figure out how to scale it down. I can’t remember a time we ever made enchiladas in a pan smaller than your standard Pyrex Baking Dish, and often we made two.
One important note, even if you don’t like olives, do not substitute or skimp on the olive juice. It is the essence of the flavor. You don’t have to add chopped olives to the final product, but the sauce will not even slightly resemble its true origins without olive juice.
We have always used lard, but I made a batch for my sister-in-law who was vegetarian with vegetable oil, and the results were fabulous and highly similar.
Also, my mom notes that you can add shredded chicken or beef, but we have never preferred this in our family, and when she was a kid they could never afford it. So, below is the cheese only version.
Finally, as my mom likes to remind me, always top the enchiladas with the ingredients, so people know what is inside. In this case, top with olives, onions & cheese. No one likes an olive surprise.
Grandma’s Cheese Enchiladas
makes 15 – 20 Enchiladas
- 15 – 20 Corn tortillas (one package)
- Oil or Lard
- 2 tbsp Flour
- 1 tbsp Chile Powder
- ¾ – 1 cup Water
- 1 can Black Olives, pitted & diced, save juice
- ½ lb Monterey Jack or Colby cheese, shredded
- 1 bunch Green Onions, diced
- Preheat oven to 400
- Prepare Tortillas: Add enough oil or lard to a large sauté or frying pan to generously cover the bottom (about 1 cup), and heat until hot, not burning (about medium heat). Once the oil/lard is hot, place one tortilla in and count to 4, flip, count to 4 then remove to a cookie rack over a paper bag to drain. Do not overcook tortillas, they simply need to be pliable. Continue until all tortillas are cooked. Turn off the burner.
- Make the Sauce: After frying pan cools a little remove all but approximately 2 tablespoons of oil, but don’t throw out the excess until you’ve finished making the sauce. Add approximately 2 tablespoons of flour and stir with a wire whisk until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of chili powder and stir until smooth. Add approximately ¾ cup of water and stir until smooth. Turn burner on to medium. Whisk in about ¼ cup of the olive juice. Whisk constantly to keep the sauce smooth as it thickens. Continue stirring and adding chili powder, olive juice and salt to taste. Add only a little at a time. You may need to add more water. Once you have the right taste and consistency continue cooking until the sauce is bubbling, this will thicken the sauce. Turn off the burner and remove from heat.
- Assemble Enchiladas: Place approximately ¼ cup of sauce on the bottom of a 8 x 8 baking dish, enough to coat the bottom. Spread around. Dip a fried tortilla into the sauce. Make sure it’s coated on both sides, scrapping any extra if there is too much. Place on baking dish. Sprinkle cheese the length of the tortilla in the middle. Sprinkle a few diced olives and diced onions. Do not overfill. Fold tortilla over then roll. Move to the side of the baking dish. Continue with the rest of the tortillas. Feel free to crowd the pan, this will help the enchiladas keep from being too flat. When done, pour remaining sauce over enchiladas, sprinkle with cheese, olives, and onions.
- Bake at 400 for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Ordering horchata is like having sex. You always order it when it’s available, you rarely regret it, sometimes you stumble upon it in strange places, and you’re always hoping it will be the best of your life, but unfortunately, it probably won’t be.
Because of its simple ingredients and time consuming process to make, I often find that corners are skipped, and sugary syrups or artificial thickening agents are added. Not that this makes bad horchata…I am just always keenly hunting for knock-your-socks-off horchata.
I started making horchata while living in Japan where it is completely unavailable. To my surprise it was both easy to make, and the homemade version surpasses most restaurant or store bought versions. It keeps well, and you most likely have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now.
Best of all, it is highly customizable (see personalizations below). I sometimes add almonds if I have some laying around. I nearly always add a drop or two of almond extract. As for milk, we did a blind taste test of no milk, with milk, and with coconut milk. While they were all delicious, the version with milk won hands down, but coconut milk is a great vegan alternative.
The real key is patience. Some people will try to convince you that you can concoct it in an afternoon, but they are probably boring people whose favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. In order to get a real beverage and not just flavored water, you must be patient, small fry. So, make this over the weekend and have it in your fridge all week.
Note: Don’t spend a lot of time rinsing your rice, it’s only going to sit in water for the next couple of hours. I have found the best way to rinse rice is by using nylons or a cheese cloth, or if you’ve ever lived in Japan, 1 – 2 of those sink socks.
Horchata: Mexican Rice Milk
serves 6 to 8
- 1 cup long-grain white Rice, rinsed
- 1 Cinnamon Stick, preferably Mexican, more for garnish
- 4 cups Water
- 1 cup-ish Sugar
- 1 tbsp Vanilla
secret ingredients for personalization
- ½ cup Almonds, blanched & chopped
- 1 – 3 drops Almond Extract
- 2 cups Milk or 2 cups Coconut Milk (not both)
- Combine the rice, 2 cups of water and the cinnamon stick in a sturdy blender. Pulse (don’t blend) until the rice is like coarse bird seed, but not so long it resembles sand. It will be loud. Your cat will be scared.
- Pour the mixture with the other 2 cups of water into a large (I prefer air-tight) container and let soak for 24 hours. Grab a good book. Leave it alone until tomorrow. Or, throw it in the fridge and go away for the weekend. Just don’t move on to the next step for several hours, unless you feel the need to shake it. You’re allowed to shake it if you like.
- Have you slept? Are you sure? If you haven’t slept at least once, you haven’t waited long enough. If you have, you may now return the contents to the blender. Sometimes I find there is too much water to fit everything in the blender. If so, you can do this step in batches. Blend the mixture, and this time blend like you mean it. Get angry, and pulverize the mixture until smooth.
- Strain the mixture through your best straining device. We used a a cheese cloth over a bowl, but a chinois, nylons, or fine mesh strainer all work. Some are messier than others. Get as much liquid out as you can.
- At this point I like to blend and strain again, but this is a personal preference. If you do blend it a second time, the horchata will likely get very warm, this is natural.
- Once you have reached the desired level of smoothness, you can add as much sugar as you like along with the vanilla. Start with a little and gradually add more, waiting for the sugar to dissolve completely before tasting. I usually start with 1 cup, but feel free to start with less.
- Serve over ice, with a cinnamon stick stirrer, or as our friend Chris likes it, with a shot of whiskey.
- You can add a ½ cup of almonds or other nut to the soaking rice mixture. If you do, blanched and chopped are best. In Spain they use the tigernuts…grrr!
- You can add a couple drops almond extract at the same time or in lieu of vanilla, goes especially well if you have added almonds to the soak.
- You can add milk at the same time as the vanilla if you want a creamier horchata.
- You can add coconut milk at the same time as the vanilla if you want a more tropical flavored horchata.
When I was young, the sound of onions sizzling in a pan used to scare me the way vacuums scare cats. There was something about the attention-seeking onions that were different from other foods. Where pancakes hissed and then surrendered to the pan, onions continued to cast their spell throughout the cooking process, gaining strength with every stir. I was certain that at any moment the evil onions were going to burn my mother, as she continued to wage war on the pan.
But, they never did.
Now, that same sound is the sound of home. Most of my mother’s dishes begin with the sizzle of an onion, and end with a full belly and a warm heart. When my siblings and I moved far away from home for college or work it was the simple foods we craved, my mother’s own personal sucker punches to ensure we would return. Mexican Mac N Cheese is one of those dishes.
- 1 – 2 tbsp Canola Oil (or your choice of Olive, Canola, Vegetable, Lard or Bacon Fat)
- ½ cup Yellow Onion, finely chopped
- 7 oz pkg small Mexican Noodles (Stars, Alphabet or Small Elbow work best, can be found in the International aisle of your supermarket)
- 8 oz can Tomato Sauce
- Boiling Water
- Optional: Chicken Bouillon
- 1 cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded plus more for serving (you could substitute Jack, Colby, or other hard cheese)
- Wide sauté or frying pan with a lid
- Add enough oil of your choice to your pan to coat the bottom and place over medium heat. The wider your pan, the faster your noodles will brown. Let the oil heat for a moment before moving on, this is how you’re going to get that great sizzle.
- Add the onion and noodles to the pan and stir. Brown the noodles in the oil until most of the noodles are browned.
- Once the noodles are nicely browned, quickly pour enough tomato sauce to cover the surface of the noodles. This may not be the entire can. Do not stir, or the sauce can boil or burn.
- Continuing to work quickly, pour enough boiling water over the pasta to cover completely, do not stir. If you do not add enough, you will have crunchy pasta, if you add too much, you will have soup. At this point, you can sprinkle with chicken bouillon for a richer flavor, or skip for a vegetarian option.
- Bring to a boil (if it isn’t already), sprinkle the cheese on top of the water, cover and reduce to low heat. Cook for 20 minutes and check if the noodles are cooked through.
- Once they are fully cooked, fluff the noodles and serve. Top with extra shredded cheese.