Peruvian ‘Possibly Paella’

It’s not often that I am at a loss for words. Really, I can fill up just about any and every moment with my incessant yapping. I’m not sorry, I just have a lot of things to say, okay?

My first medical school interview was a group interview. Six terrified students sitting around a table with two faculty members. I’ll say it, thank God for deodorant. They started with everyone’s dread inducing hell question favorite question “Tell me about yourself.” I think I blacked out. I could have told them I was Queen of England for all I know. They seemed to accept it.

Anyway, we all went around the table and introduced ourselves and as we came to the natural end of our introductions one of the interviewers said “Well, I was really hoping there wouldn’t be any awkward pauses, I want this to be discussion based.”

I immediately thought to myself “OH my new interviewer friend, I got you. You know not what you’ve done.” For the next 45 minutes there was not a moment of silence. As soon as it seemed like the conversation was beginning to deaden, there I was. Along with a love for the kitchen, the best gift my mom ever gave me was “The Gift of Gab.”

If you know me well, you know I follow the food blog seriouseats.com religiously. It’s creator, J Kenji Lopez-Alt, is also the author of my favorite cookbook “The Food Lab.” I love that book so much that if it weren’t so damn pointy I would cuddle it at night, hoping its magic would just seep into my brain.

What I like about Serious Eats is that it’s all about the science of why recipes work. The writers do extensive experimentation and roll out the most successful techniques, making sure to explain why they work. Knowing the science behind the recipes allows for much more creative freedom in the kitchen. It’s like “How It’s Made*” for food. If you know why and how each step works, you can take them apart and patch the pieces together into a new pattern, incorporating new ingredients and flavors.

*If you haven’t seen it, please immediately go watch the How It’s Made for Peeps. Shit is FASCINATING. I don’t know why it’s important to have that knowledge but now that I do I can’t have anyone living without it. 

I’ve made the “Peruvian-Style Grilled Chicken with Green Sauce” recipe from Serious Eats quite a few times, and boy oh boy is it good. I have adapted that recipe into a one-pan meal here. I feel like the combination of spices and their ratio is perfect the way it is, I just built a different meal around it. Inspired by the age-old “with rice” Reddit thread (get on the Google if you don’t know what I’m talking about, Reddit is a heck of a place), I thought “Well Peruvian chicken is good, but what about Peruvian chicken.. with rice?” A star was born.

What you really need to know about rice dishes is the ratio. In the great appliance love of my life, my rice cooker, the ratio of rice to liquid is exactly 1:1. Unless you add coconut milk* and then things get ALL fucked up and I really have no explanation for that (yo Serious Eats, if y’all ever read this please explain to me the science behind that conundrum). On the stovetop, however, evaporation skews this ratio further to the liquid side. 3:4 worked here, just enough liquid to completely cover the rice by about a quarter of an inch. Rice is one hell of a workhorse and it will take on any delicious flavor you’d like to deliver to your pie-holes. As long as you keep the liquid ratio, there are a few degrees of freedom to experiment.

*See my post on Thai turkey meatballs. 

Ingredients:.

  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (a whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, would work just as well)
  • 8 baby bell peppers, lightly charred*
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 3 cups mid-grain white rice (I used Jasmine rice)
  • 4 cups (1 box) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • Cilantro (for garnish)

Spice blend (From Serious Eats)

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

*Note: I am #blessed with a gas range so I just held the peppers over it with tongs for a minute or two until they began to blacken on the edges. If you don’t have a gas range, you can do this easily in a cast-iron skillet over high heat or even under your handy-dandy broiler. That little bit of charred flavor is worth the extra minute.

The Breakdown:

  1. Mix together the spices and garlic with the canola oil and white vinegar.
  2. Rub the spice paste all over the chicken pieces, making sure to get into those nooks and crannies so that every bite of chicken will be spiced.
  3. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is screaming hot, sear each chicken thigh, skin side down, until the fat has rendered and the skin is golden-brown (5-6 minutes). Be careful not to crowd the pan, steaminess is the enemy of crispiness. Work in batches if necessary.
  4. Once each piece has been seared, remove from the pan and set aside. Pour out all but 3 tablespoons of the fat.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion to the pan and stir well, scraping up any fond that collected while searing the chicken. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until well browned.
  6. Add the tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 1-2 minutes. I’ll be honest, I did not measure the tomato paste because if it were acceptable I’d eat it right out of the tube (and maybe I do). 2-3 tablespoons is a good estimate for a normal person that doesn’t wish to die of a tomato-paste induced coma, but feel free to do it up.
  7. Add the rice and toast for 1-2 minutes or until the grains become translucent around the edges.
  8. Add the chicken broth and stir well. Once the liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to low. Give the rice a liberal sprinkle of kosher salt and black pepper, stir again.
  9. Nestle the chicken pieces back into the pan with the baby bell peppers. Lay the lemon and lime slices over the top and cover. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the rice is tender. During the last ten minutes of cooking, pre-heat the broiler in your oven (on a high heat setting, depending on your oven).
  10. Place the whole shebang under the broiler and cook, watching carefully, for 3-5 minutes or until the chicken skin has re-crisped.
  11. Serve immediately with chopped cilantro.

delicious chicken

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

When I took the lid off that skillet the billowing clouds of steam smelled so incredible that it just about knocked me on my ass. So much flavor and warmth radiated out of one dish that when I was asked “How is it?” I was finally, blissfully, at a loss for words.

I have made many things that haven’t worked out. Grainy gratins, neglected veggies that got a little too roasted, convoluted ideas that ended terribly. This blog makes me look good because I don’t share the terrible failures. This dish was one of those times that making something up on the fly was more akin to the accidental invention of the Slinky than Frankenstein. This weird permutation of paella won’t save lives or anything, but it will bring your tummies some joy.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if there is anything I want to emphasize to y’all it’s to never be afraid to make something up. Sure, there will be times that it fails and you have to either toss it or salvage it somehow (enter eggs), but other times you might just stumble upon something magic.

I’m not quite sure what to call it, chicken and rice just doesn’t seem to do it justice. I settled on paella because it is a rice dish simmered in a shallow pan and it gets some of that crispy rice magic on the bottom like a good paella does. I’m sure there are paella purists that will gasp and shout “THIS IS NOT A SEAFOOD DISH THIS IS NOT PAELLA FOR XYZ REASONS OH THE HORROR.” and to them I give a resounding “don’t give a shit” shrug and say “Too late, sucka. I already did it.” Anarchy with the titles, I tell you.

Now I would be remiss not to tell you the one downside of this meal. You will probably end up with some rice stuck to the bottom of your pan that could be a pain in the ass to clean up. Fear not! We clean smarter, not harder. Here are a few options:

  1. Let it soak, let it soak, let it soak- that pan looks like a tomorrow-you problem. Let it rest overnight filled with water and dish soap and it should be markedly easier to clean the next morning.
  2. Rest it- I have heard- and I haven’t tried this myself so let me know if it works- that letting the pan rest after cooking for 10 minutes can loosen this bottom layer. I don’t have the patience for this when that smell hits me, but if you do more power to ya.
  3. The Holy Grail- Barkeeper’s Friend. This is by far the easiest (and my tried and true) method. Order that shit off Amazon right now and thank me later. It will clean anything with its sorcery.

Whatever you want to call it, however you want to clean it, make this and tell me how it goes.

 

 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. mistimaan says:

    Nice recipe

    Like

  2. chefkreso says:

    Very flavorful, looks really yummy!

    Like

    1. offbaste says:

      It was packed with flavor! Give it a try sometime and let me know what you think

      Liked by 1 person

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