Today was a cooking day: arroz con pollo, Puerto Rican style. Fried plantains, too.
I really miss the Puerto Rican food I grew up with in New York City. Diana, an older friend I had when I was 17, made the best arroz con pollo on the face of the earth. She tried to teach me how to replicate it but I never even came close. I decided to try again when I discovered that a couple of the Mexican food centers in Berkeley carry Goya products.
Goya, oh Boya! Their advertising catchphrase sounded wonderful when the company’s 1980s spokesperson, actor Zohra Lampert, of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death fame, semi-whispered it on TV.
Goya is ubiquitous in New York City. Anyone who has taken the subway would have seen their ads even if they never cooked.
Making these things reminds me of trips to Orchard Beach with Diana and her large family. We would haul enough arroz con pollo there to feed an army, and pick up tropical sodas and other family members in the Bronx on the way. It took us a couple of hours to get there because there was no end to the stops for this or that.
Diana’s annatto-laced reddish rice — moist but still crumbly and never gummy — was the star of her arroz con pollo show. She had gandules (pigeon peas) in there, and capers, and sofrito, a fresh seasoning mix. So many wonderful things. She put it all together by feel and the dish was always spectacular.
We would eat it warm, and the chicken pieces – still on the bone – would loosen and pop out of the rice when you dug into it with a big spoon.
I still hear clashing music and family mayhem coming from all those jam-packed picnic tables at Orchard Beach on hot summer days. Now and then I’m sitting in the back seat of that loaded station wagon heading down the Grand Concourse full tilt as happy as WKTU’s disco beat.
I won’t bother giving you the recipe for the chicken because I need to work on it, but plantain instructions follow.
- Green plantains, peeled and cut at an angle into ½-inch slices
- Canola oil
- Coarse salt
- Lime wedges
- Shallow fry plantain slices in hot canola oil until barely brown
- Drain on paper towels and allow to cool
- Smash them gently with a flat mallet or the side of a bench scraper or metal spatula with a weight on the other side. You get the idea, right? Explaining this in text is like telling someone how to tie a shoe. You want to flatten them a bit and break them but not pulverize them.
- Fry the slices again in hot oil, transferring to paper towels when nice and brown
- Salt liberally and serve with a wedge of lime