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Arroz con pollo is the Cuban comfort dish that lifts rice to its full potential

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.

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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.

Cuban beans and rice bring together two pantry staples in one perfect pot of comfort

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. 

Get the recipe: Cuban-Style Chicken and Rice (Arroz con Pollo)