Nicaraguan Arroz con Pollo Recipe

This deeply savory version of chicken and rice gets studded with smoked sausage, ham, olives, capers, carrots, and peas.

A plate of Nicaraguan arroz con pollo with a side of buttered white toast.

Serious Eats / Maria del Mar Cuadra

Why It Works

  • Using the aromatic chicken-poaching liquid to cook the rice perfumes it with chicken flavor.
  • Several smoked and cured ingredients—as well as two concentrated forms of tomato—boost the savoriness of the dish.
  • Tomato, olives, capers, and Parmesan balance the richness of the sausage and ham with layered tartness.

Picture this: a large, round, wooden table with thick-set legs crowded with at least 16 people noisily pulling chairs in and out, screaming for this or that platter, bread, something to drink. My paternal grandparents' house in Granada, Nicaragua, was home to my father and his nine siblings, as well as first cousins and more distant relatives who came in and out as they pleased, their favorite visiting hours being those when meals were being served at the King Arthur-style round table. Today, the house has fewer lunch and dinner guests, but the ghosts of the past and my grandmother's habit of mounding food on outsized platters remain.

Arroz con pollo is a classic of the Nicaraguan kitchen repertoire. It frequently goes by the stage name arroz a la Valenciana, which for English speakers will translate literally into Valencian rice, aka paella. Arroz con pollo is far from paella, but one can imagine how our Spanish forefathers may have prepared it in their colony, adapting their traditional recipes to their new regions' ingredients. The passage of time, the advent of canned foods, and the ease of convenience products led to the total bastardization of the original arroz a la Valenciana, but it remains among the top favorite dishes of the populace.

How, exactly, have Nicarguans "customized" paella? The main protein is always chicken, rather than shellfish, eel, rabbit, snails, etc., and rather than the plump bomba rice used in Spain, this arroz is the more slender long-grain white. Since saffron is, for lack of a better word, scarce in our region, tomato paste and ketchup do the job of tinting the rice an orange color. Some people use annatto paste to achieve the desired marigold hue, but I find it to add an unpleasant vinegar-like flavor (annatto or achiote is sold as a seasoned paste in Nicaragua).

Additions to the rice include diced carrots, small green peas (usually canned and charmingly referred to by their French name petits pois), capers, pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced sausage, and chopped ham. At my grandmother's house there is a stack of white toast, shiny with butter, and a pile of finely grated queso duro (a salty, dry, crumbly unpasteurized cow's milk cheese) or Parmesan to go with the dish.

Arroz con pollo is a bit labor-intensive since each item is prepared separately to achieve maximum flavor: You poach your own chicken, make the rice, and have to chop a long list of ingredients, but the yield is quite impressive and makes great leftovers. The mixture may seem a bit odd and you may scoff at what liberties have been taken with the original recipe, but once you've tried it you'll understand why it is such a beloved dish.

April 2012

Recipe Facts

Prep: 0 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Active: 60 mins
Total: 2 hrs
Serves: 10 to 12 servings

Rate & Comment

Ingredients

For the Chicken (see notes)

  • 1 whole large chicken (about 4 to 5 pounds), cut into 8 pieces, skin removed (see note)

  • 1 medium yellow or white onion (225g), peeled and cut into 6 wedges

  • 1 medium green bell pepper (130g), seeded and quartered

  • 6 garlic cloves (30g), peeled and smashed

  • 1 tablespoon (9g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight

  • 2 teaspoons (6g) whole black peppercorns

  • 1 lime, halved

For the Rice

  • 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil

  • 1 medium yellow or white onion (225g), finely chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 1 medium garlic clove (5g), minced (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 2 teaspoons (6g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight

  • 2 tablespoons (30g) tomato paste

  • 2 cups (425g) long-grain white rice

  • 2 medium carrots (115g), peeled and cut into small dice (about 1 cup; see note)

  • 1 quart (945ml) chicken broth

For the Arroz con Pollo

  • 3 tablespoons (45g) unsalted butter, divided

  • 8 ounces (225g) smoked sausage (such as Lil’ Smokies) or Kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

  • 1/4 pound (115g) sliced deli ham, coarsely chopped

  • 1 medium yellow or white onion (225g), finely chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 3/4 cup (75g) drained canned or jarred piquillo peppers, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons (30g) tomato paste

  • 6 tablespoons (120g) ketchup

  • 3/4 cup (115g) pimento-stuffed olives, sliced

  • 1/3 cup (35g) capers, drained

  • 1 1/2 cups (185g) frozen peas (see note)

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 cup (2 ounces; 60g) finely grated parmesan cheese (optional)

  • Buttered white toast (optional)

Directions

  1. For the chicken: Place chicken, onion, bell pepper, garlic, salt, peppercorns, and 2 quarts (1.9L) cold water in a Dutch oven (chicken should be submerged 2 inches; add more water if necessary). Squeeze lime juice into pot and add juiced lime halves to pot. Bring to boil over medium heat, then immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165°F (74°C), about 20 minutes.

  2. Using tongs, transfer chicken to a large bowl. Once cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces, removing and discarding bones; you should have 4 cups of shredded chicken. Strain broth (discarding solids) and reserve 4 cups of broth; set aside (store the rest for another use).

  3. For the rice: Wipe out the Dutch oven, add 2 tablespoons butter, and melt over medium heat. Add oil, onion, garlic, and salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until darkened, about 1 minute.

  4. Stir in rice and carrots and cook, stirring, until rice is completely coated with onion mixture, about 1 minute. Add reserved broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until most of the liquid has evaporated and you can see small bubbles on the surface of the rice. Reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover, and cook until rice is done, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff rice with chopsticks or fork, and set aside.

  5. For the Arroz Con Pollo: In a large skillet with high sides, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add sausage and ham and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

  6. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in now-empty skillet. Add onion and peppers and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until darkened, about 1 minute. Add ketchup and reserved shredded chicken and cook, stirring, until chicken is completely coated in mixture.

  7. Stir in reserved rice, then reserved sausage and ham mixture. Stir in olives, capers, and peas. Cook, stirring occasionally to allow flavors to meld, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

  8. Serve warm with grated parmesan cheese and buttered white toast, if using, alongside.

Special Equipment

Dutch oven, instant-read thermometer, fine-mesh strainer, large skillet with high sides

Notes

This recipe can be cut in half. For a quicker version of this recipe: Buy a rotisserie chicken (you'll need about 4 cups of shredded chicken) and low-sodium chicken broth instead of poaching your own chicken and making your own broth. Rather than cooking the diced carrots with the rice, substitute them and the frozen peas with 2 1/2 cups of frozen peas-and-carrots.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The chicken and rice may be cooked 2 days in advance. To store, place chicken and 3 cups strained broth in airtight container and refrigerate. Refrigerate rice in an airtight container.

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
335 Calories
19g Fat
21g Carbs
21g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 335
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19g 24%
Saturated Fat 7g 35%
Cholesterol 69mg 23%
Sodium 1127mg 49%
Total Carbohydrate 21g 8%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 21g
Vitamin C 39mg 196%
Calcium 44mg 3%
Iron 2mg 13%
Potassium 548mg 12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)