Spanish Chicken with Rice, Sherry and Sweety Drop Peppers
Ordinarily, I am always up for injecting a bit of patience and time into proceedings when cooking. An afternoon in the kitchen, chopping and whittling vegetables down into their smaller constituent parts is time well spent and braising joints of meat overnight in the oven always yields the best results. The smells alone that permeate the house in the early hours have to be the best alarm call ever. Even if you do wake up with your head stuck to a sodden pillow, because you’ve spent the best part of the dawn chorus dribbling in your sleep. Yes, slow and low is the way to go.
Of course, sometimes (well, actually a lot of the time) we often have to produce something quick for the table and short-cuts have become a necessity of life, and this recipe is full of them. I have made arroz con pollo y pimientos a fair few times now, having been introduced to this Andalusian dish by Claudia Roden, one of our most revered food writers. The easy translation is ‘rice with chicken and red peppers’ – which sounds fairly straightforward. But once you begin to break things down, it soon becomes apparent that a bleedin’ awful lot of work needs to be done. The chicken needs to be roasted whole, so that precious juices can be collected afterwards. A healthy, rich stock needs to gleaned and formulated from the carcass to provide backbone. And the onions have to be cooked for no less than 45 minutes, so that they become sweet and decadent. All in all, it can take up to three hours to put this together. Which is no good for a midweek dinner, when you’ve got just a small window of opportunity, before scooting back out to deliver children to after school clubs.
So I have made a few nips and tucks to this recipe and added a couple of tweaks along the way. The first being to break down and joint the chicken for pan frying and I actually believe that you can make a decent chicken stock quite briskly. There really isn’t much to be gained from stewing for hours on end. That said, you don’t want to boil the chicken bones either but a 30 minute gentle simmer will do the job. I promise. Equally, the onions can be stir-fried and caramelised in a flash, just so long as you keep an eye on them and add a drop of water if they are beginning to catch.
The twists come in the form of using sweet drop peppers, rather than roasted red peppers. You could use the latter, also straight out of a jar, but I find that these tart, scarlet teardrops provide a lovely contrast against the inherent creaminess of the rice and resulting broth. And because I have sped up things a touch, I like to use a lot of thyme and bay, just to build up an extra layer of woody and aromatic flavour in the background.
I have timed myself on this recipe before and with furrowed brow and intense concentration, I have brought plates to the table in just under the hour. And even within that hour, I can tell you that the resultant salivating has been no less. My kids may be nine now but I always make sure they’ve got their bibs on when I am cooking this.
This recipe post first appeared on Great British Chefs in collaboration with Cooks & Co.
Spanish Chicken with Rice, Sherry and Sweety Drop Peppers serves 4-6
1 free-range chicken, approx.1.5kg in weight, jointed into 4 pieces (breasts and legs)
oil, for shallow frying
For the stock
1.5l water, just boiled from the kettle
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 celery stick, chopped
3 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
4 tbsp of olive oil
4 large onions, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
250g of dry sherry
500g of paella rice
75g of sweety drop peppers
1 pinch of saffron
First, get your stock going by placing the chicken carcass and wings in a saucepan. Cover with the just-boiled water, add the vegetables and aromatics and place on the hob over a medium heat. The key is to bring things to a simmer and gently bubble away, so adjust the heat accordingly. Remember to skim any scum that rises to the surface.
Once the stock is on the go, take a wide saucepan or casserole and place it on the hob over a medium heat. Add the oil, followed by the sliced onions. Stir through then cover for 10 minutes until they’ve begun to soften then take the lid off and turn the heat up.
Now briskly stir, moving the onions about until they become golden brown. This should take about 10 minutes. If they look like they’re burning, add a drop of water. Once the onions are golden, turn the heat down and add the garlic and thyme leaves. Stir through, cooking for 5 minutes.
Next, add the dry sherry and simmer for another 5 minutes, until it has reduced a touch.
By this time, your stock should be ready, so take the stock saucepan off the heat and drain the chicken liquor through a sieve into a jug. You will need 1 litre.
Next, take the onions off the heat and pour your jug of stock into the wide saucepan and then using a hand blender, blitz until everything is smooth. The result should have a nice light broth but be careful, as everything will still be quite hot.
Once done, season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle the saffron stems over the top, crushing the stems with your fingers as you do so.
Now place the wide saucepan back on the heat and bring the broth back up to the boil.
When ready, add the rice to the wide saucepan and stir through. Leave to cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, pan-fry the chicken joints. Place a frying pan over a medium to high heat and add a splash of oil. Lightly season the legs first and place them in the pan skin-side down, until the skin becomes crisp – this takes about 5 minutes. Once crisp, flip over.
Sprinkle the sweety drop peppers over the simmering rice and place the legs on top. Cover with a lid, bringing the heat down to low.
Lightly season the chicken breasts and add them to the frying pan skin-side down, again frying until the skin is crisp – this will be quicker and should only take about 2 minutes. Flip over the breasts.
Lift the lid off the wide saucepan and place the breast pieces next to the legs. Cover again and leave to gently poach for 10–12 minutes, until the chicken pieces are cooked through and the rice is soft and tender.
When ready, remove from the heat and leave covered for just another 5 minutes, for everything to rest. Serve up by removing the chicken pieces and spooning a generous helping of the rice and peppers onto each plate. Cut the breast pieces into slices and joint the legs into two. Divide accordingly. Finish with a few more sprigs of thyme (if you fancy) and serve.