For years, I have harbored a seemingly unpopular opinion in shame. But one of the cornerstones of being online is the broadcasting of your deeply held (if faulty) beliefs with unshakable pride, so *straps on helmet, elbow pads, knee pads* here goes nothing.

Rice is just okay.

When it comes to cooking grains at home, I’m of two philosophies: The grain — which in many households is long-grain white rice — should either be 1) boiled together with a dish’s other ingredients to absorb their flavors or 2) cooked plainly in advance and ultimately fried.

The greatest example of the first approach is a Cuban classic I grew up on and, scientifically, the ultimate comfort dish: arroz con pollo. Truly great rice is rice that’s boiled with rendered chicken fat, stock, beer, tomato sauce and saffron. If you disagree, please do not hesitate to @ me. But at least make this recipe first.

Like any respectable Cuban dish, arroz con pollo starts with a combo of garlic, onion and bell pepper sauteed in a little fat. This holy trinity is called sofrito; much like a French mirepoix, it serves as the foundation on which you’ll build a flavorful meal. After a bit of browning and sauteing, there’s little work left for you as the rice cooks. It’s an appealing set-it-and-forget-it dinner option if there ever was one, which is why I insisted on learning my own Cuban mother’s recipe. And whether you’ve got kiddos or large adult sons, this dish will feed (and fill up) a crowd.

Good news for those of us who love to make meals ahead: Arroz con pollo is better the next day. Storing the dish in a large, oven-safe glass container in the fridge will make for easy reheating. If you live for crispy chicken skin, you can finish things off by re-searing the thighs skin sides down in a cast-iron skillet for a minute or two after you’ve warmed things through.

As far as specialty ingredients go, saffron — a spice that’s popular in Spanish and Middle Eastern cooking — imparts an unmistakable color and flavor. A little tomato sauce will color our rice slightly, but that coveted yellow hue can’t happen without those luxurious threads. Skip it, and you’ll have one of those “Something’s missing, but I can’t place what” moments. You don’t want that.

Affordable options are available; you can get a small vial of saffron threads at Trader Joe’s for $5.99. And a little goes a long way (for this recipe, you’ll want to use what I’m going to call a “baby pinch”), so once you have it on hand you can experiment with adding it to other rice dishes, vegetables and even sweet treats.

NOTE: Four thighs make four tidy portions, but you will have leftover rice which can be used as a side for another meal.

This recipe is featured in Voraciously’s Meal Plan of Action newsletter series. Each week, for 12 weeks, our easy-to-follow game plan focuses on one ingredient, shows you how to give that item a little TLC on a Sunday afternoon and explores how a week’s worth of deceptively easy (and, above all, tasty) dinners can be built around it. Sound good? Sign up here. 

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of this recipe here.


1lime, cut in half

4bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1teaspoonkosher salt, plus more as needed

Freshly ground black pepper

1tablespoonextra-virgin olive oil

1small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (1 to 1 1/2 cups)

4cloves garlic, minced

13cuppimento-stuffed manzanilla olives, sliced

12cupplain tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes

12teaspoonground cumin

1bay leaf

12ounceslight (as in pale) beer

2cupschicken broth

1 14cupsuncooked long-grain white rice, rinsed

A baby pinch of saffron threads


Step 1

Squeeze the juice of both lime halves all over the chicken thighs, then season both sides of the thighs generously with salt and pepper. Let them sit for a couple minutes while you prep the rest of your ingredients.

Step 2

Drizzle the oil into a Dutch oven or another large, heavy-bottomed, ovenproof saucepan and heat over medium heat. Brown the chicken, skin sides down, for 8 to 10 minutes until golden and crisped, and then again for 8 minutes on the meat sides. Transfer them to a plate.

Did you make this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.

Step 3

You’ll see a little treat at the bottom of the pot. Gang, that’s rendered chicken fat — currency around these parts. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons into a heatproof container (for saving or discarding once the fat has cooled) and then dump the onion, bell pepper and garlic into the remaining rendered fat in the pot. Cook until the veggies have softened and the onion is slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the olives, tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, cumin and the bay leaf. Cook, stirring every now and then, for 3 minutes.

Step 4

Pour the beer into the pot (and sip on another if you’ve got it). Add the broth, rice, saffron threads and the teaspoon of kosher salt, and stir. Increase the heat to medium-high; bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.

Step 5

Barely tuck in those crisped chicken thighs skin sides up, partially cover the pot and cook low and slow until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid, 30 minutes.

Step 6

Toss out the bay leaf and let everything rest for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Inspired by a recipe from “Memories of a Cuban Kitchen,” by Mary Urrutia Randelman and Joan Schwartz (Wiley, 1996).

Tested by Tanya Sichynsky; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Did you make this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.

The nutritional analysis includes 1/2 cup cooked rice per serving.

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Calories: 500; Total Fat: 24 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Cholesterol: 145 mg; Sodium: 890 mg; Carbohydrates: 35 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 31 g.