My home state of Florida has quite the vibrant community of Cuban ex-pats. Miami, for example, is a haven of Cuban peoples and culture, and there are enclaves of refugees and their families in ever major city across the state. With people and culture in place, food traditions inevitably follow, and so Cuban restaurants and Latino markets are all over, much to our delight!
Being native to Florida, I've lived and grown up with Cuban folk my entire life, and they are a lively and lovely bunch. Very recently, I was able to sit down and chat about Cuban cuisine with my good friend and fellow ketonian, Babi Hernandez. We talked about the make-up of classic Cuban cooking, as well as tips and tricks on how to make many of the staple dishes compliant.
Arroz con pollo, rice with chicken, is one such staple dish. It's basically a spin on the Spanish classic paella, but with local ingredients: chicken, rice, onion, garlic, bell pepper, green peas, and "yellow condiment" for that nice pop of color.
Overall, this wasn't a very hard dish to ketofy. Caulirice is pretty much always going to stand-in for rice, and with a few small exceptions, most of the other ingredients were already compliant. It was a matter of scaling back on some of the carb-heavy aromatics (keeping the flavors with smaller quantities), and making a few executive decisions on substituting for the non-compliant ingredients.
In order the obtain the golden color traditionally associated with this dish, many moderns use a saffron substitute called Bijol powder. Made from anchiote seeds, it imparts that classic color while using ingredients native to the Americas. Unfortunately, most modern preparations of this 'yellow condiment' include masa corn flour, which is very much a non-keto additive.
Alternatively, you may use the traditionally Spanish saffron to yield the same color. It is also trendy now to substitute in a little ground turmeric for that pop of yellow. Each one of these spices imparts a slightly different flavor profile, so I encourage you to experiment with finding what tastes best to you and your family.
One other problem ingredient I had to give some thought to were the green peas. Now, I could leave them out altogether, because they're such a minor part of the dish, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided I really wanted to find something suitable to give the dish that same punch of green. It's very true when it's said we eat first with our eyes, and the coloring of the various traditional ingredients is what makes arroz con pollo such a beauty.
I didn't want to lose that aspect of the dish, so after consulting with our own Danny Vega, I decided to cut some compliant green beans into a comparable size as the non-compliant green peas and substitute it in. If you don't like green beans, or are opposed to them in your Cuban food, feel free to leave it out.
- Serves: 4 servings
- Serving size: ¼ "rice" and 2 pieces chicken per
- Calories: 547
- Fat: 40.9 g
- Total Carbohydrate: 11.6 g
- Fiber: 4.5 g
- Protein: 34.6 g
- ½ c avocado oil
- 8 chicken pieces (large drums)
- 2 oz onion, diced
- 2 oz red bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ c (4 fl oz) chicken broth
- 4-6 threads saffron (or ¼ tsp turmeric)
- 1 small can (8 oz) tomato sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 c green beans, cut very small (the size of green peas)
- 12 oz caulirice, cooked fully according to package directions
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, pan fry the chicken pieces in the oil with the lid on, turning once, until golden on both sides and cooked through. About 7-9 minutes per side.
- Set cooked chicken aside and cover with foil to keep warm.
- If using saffron, crush the threads in your fingers and sprinkle over the chicken broth. Let stand to "bloom" and develop the color. (If using turmeric, skip this step and add with the rest of the seasonings)
- In the same skillet and oil, turn the heat down to medium and saute the onion and red bell pepper until the onion is translucent. Add garlic and cook briefly while stirring until fragrant, another 30 seconds.
- Add in all seasonings, broth (with saffron, if using), tomato sauce, and green beans, and simmer over low heat until the green beans are tender and bright in color. About ten minutes.
- Stir in cooked caulirice and allow to simmer over low just a few minutes for flavors to meld and color to develop. About 2-5 minutes.
- Serve hot topped with 2 pieces chicken per serving.