The nights are drawing in here in South London and we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before bitter temperatures follow suit: as ever, we’ve been promised the coldest winter ever with months of apocalyptic snowfall! Confident though we are that this is tabloid sensationalism, a visit to a Caribbean island would still be pretty nice. With some fairly significant renovations getting started in the Mash House, however, we’re going to have to imagine that warming sunshine vicariously through our cooking.
Today’s island nation is Cuba. We’ve never been there, but we know people who have! Ash’s sister and her husband went there on their honeymoon and amidst their adventures of swimming with dolphins, riding around in Cadillacs and drinking pina coladas, they were considerate enough to pick up some recipes for us (and some Cuban rum!) as Thomas Cook had left a handy folder of local information in their hotel.
According to Google, the national dish of Cuba is ropa vieja, which is a beef and tomato stew. This was one of the recipes in the folder, but we ended up deciding against it because ingredient number one was ‘1kg of brisket (previously used as boiling meat for a soup)’. Now, we love brisket, but prefer it when it has been smoked long and slow on a barbecue, rather than boiling all the flavour out of it in a soup base. Instead, we opted for arroz con pollo a la chorrera, which means rice with chicken in Chorrera style (interesting, given that Chorrera culture originated in Ecuador and didn’t make it as far up as Cuba – but if the Thomas Cook recipes aren’t 100% authentic, they still came from actual Cuba, so we went with it!).
Admittedly, there were a few things in the recipe that either didn’t make sense or weren’t possible, so what follows is our version.
Arroz con pollo a la chorrera
1 chicken (approx. 1.5kg)
2/3 cup oil
1 stalk of parsley (we substituted some dried parsley rather than buying a whole bunch for the sake of a stalk!)
1 large pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
12 small tomatoes, diced
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine (we omitted this – see note after recipe)
Salt (recipe said 2 tbsp but we scaled this RIGHT down!)
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 red pepper from a jar, sliced into thin strips
1 small can green peas
1 small can asparagus (although we couldn’t find any so we used fresh which is much nicer anyway!)
1. Portion the chicken into eight pieces and brown it in the oil in a pan.
2. Using the same oil, add the onions, parsley, garlic, tomatoes and pepper and fry until a sort of sauce is created.
3. Add the stock and let it boil until the chicken is tender.
4. Add the wine (if using), salt, saffron, cumin, black pepper and the water from the tinned vegetables.
5. Bring to the boil and add the rice, peas and asparagus.
6. Cook for about 30 minutes over low heat or until the rice is soft.
7. Serve garnished with the sliced red pepper.
This is basically paella by another name, which is fine by us because we like paella! When making paella, we would normally add chorizo and/or prawns (not strictly traditional according to the Spanish, but we like it), so this version had a little less variety, but it was still enjoyable.
On tasting it, though, we thought it needed a bit of pepping up, so we put a generous squeeze of lemon over it, which worked a treat, and then the second night we thought we’d go a bit experimental and try it with a sprinkle of sumac instead – which also worked, as well as or perhaps even a little better than the lemon! We’d definitely recommend one or the other (although try a mouthful without first, so you can say you’ve had it the Cuban way!).
Then sit back, enjoy, and imagine that sunshine…