Ordinarily, I am always up for injecting a bit of patience and time into proceedings when cooking. An afternoon in the kitchen, chopping and whittling vegetables down into their smaller constituent parts is time well spent and braising joints of meat overnight in the oven always yields the best results. The smells alone that permeate the house in the early hours have to be the best alarm call ever. Even if you do wake up with your head stuck to a sodden pillow, because you’ve spent the best part of the dawn chorus dribbling in your sleep. Yes, slow and low is the way to go.
Of course, sometimes (well, actually a lot of the time) we often have to produce something quick for the table and short-cuts have become a necessity of life, and this recipe is full of them. I have made arroz con pollo y pimientos a fair few times now, having been introduced to this Andalusian dish by Claudia Roden, one of our most revered food writers. The easy translation is ‘rice with chicken and red peppers’ – which sounds fairly straightforward. But once you begin to break things down, it soon becomes apparent that a bleedin’ awful lot of work needs to be done. The chicken needs to be roasted whole, so that precious juices can be collected afterwards. A healthy, rich stock needs to gleaned and formulated from the carcass to provide backbone. And the onions have to be cooked for no less than 45 minutes, so that they become sweet and decadent. All in all, it can take up to three hours to put this together. Which is no good for a midweek dinner, when you’ve got just a small window of opportunity, before scooting back out to deliver children to Brownies and Cubs.
So I have made a few nips and tucks to this recipe and added a couple of tweaks along the way. The first being to break down and joint the chicken for pan frying and I actually believe that you can make a decent chicken stock quite briskly. There really isn’t much to be gained from stewing for hours on end. That said, you don’t want to boil the chicken bones either but a 30 minute gentle simmer will do the job. I promise. Equally, the onions can be stir-fried and caramelised in a flash, just so long as you keep an eye on them and add a drop of water if they are beginning to catch.
The twists come in the form of using sweet drop peppers, rather than roasted red peppers. You could use the latter, also straight out of a jar, but I find that these tart, scarlet teardrops provide a lovely contrast against the inherent creaminess of the rice and resulting broth. And because I have speeded up things a touch, I like to use a lot of thyme and bay, just to build up an extra layer of woody and aromatic flavour in the background.
I have timed myself on this recipe before and with furrowed brow and intense concentration, I have brought plates to the table in just under the hour. And even within that hour, I can tell you that the resultant salivating has been no less. My kids may be nine now but I always make sure they’ve got their bibs on when I am cooking this.