Monday, April 26, 2010

Rice with Pigeon Peas

Rice with Pigeon Peas is a traditional Puerto Rican dish, nearly always served at Christmas-time.  It is a true "down-home" dish in that you will find a variation for every household, just like chicken and dumplings in the South.  What is great about this dish is that you can make it to suit your tastes with more or less spice, different beans, or any number of substitutions.  I will share some of those variations at the end.  Since this is a somewhat complicated recipe, I thought I would share some step-by-step pictures for those visual learners out there.  The star ingredient for this dish is sofrito: a blend of peppers, onions, and tomatoes.  Some of the ingredients are positively impossible to find where I live, so I'll give you my version with items you should be able to find at any mega-mart.  If you don't want to make your own sofrito, Goya makes sofrito that you can find in your grocer's freezer section.  It may take a little searching for, but it is definitely a time-saver.  I make the sofrito in large batches and freeze it in ice-cube trays.  It's a great way to have some on hand at all times.  Here is what it looks like freshly made:
The first step is to make the achiote oil.  Again, this can be made ahead of time, also in larger batches, and stored in the refrigerator for use.  Pour a ½ cup of olive oil in the bottom of a saute pan.  Add 2 tablespoons of annato seeds or achiote paste.  I cannot find annato seeds here in the "sticks" but can easily get the achiote paste at the Hispanic market.  Heat on medium-high until the oil starts to sizzle.  Allow to cook for only about 30 seconds to one minute.  Do NOT let the oil smoke or burn.  Turn the pan off and let the oil sit for 30 minutes.  It will continue to draw the color and flavor out of the seasoning.  Drain the oil, and it is ready for use.  It should be a deep orange color when finished.  If you don't see the color, try heating it a little longer.
Next, heat the achiote oil in a heavy 5-quart pot or Dutch oven over high heat until rippling. Carefully stir in a ½ cup sofrito, 3 tablespoons of finely chopped olives with pimento, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon pepper and 2 teaspoons cumin. The water in the vegetables will try to spatter, so add slowly.  Cook until the sofrito stops boiling and starts to sizzle: about 5 minutes.
Then stir in 4 cups of Mexican or long-grain rice until everything is mixed together and the rice is coated with oil, stirring lightly for about 2 minutes.  Boil 6-8 cups of chicken broth in a separate pan and have it standing by on the stove-top ready for use.  Stir in two 15-ounce cans of drained pigeon peas, then pour in enough of the hot chicken broth to cover the rice by the width of two fingers.  This sounds tricky, but all you have to do is put a wooden handle in the rice mixture before adding the broth.  The mixture will leave a mark on the handle.  Then just mark a spot two finger-widths higher, put the handle back in, and add the broth to the mark.
Bring to a boil, and boil without stirring until the level of the liquid meets the rice.
 Cover the pot with plastic wrap to seal in the steam, put on the lid, and reduce the heat to as low as your stove-top allows.  Cook for another 20 minutes, turn the pot off, and let stand for another 5 minutes.  Fluff the rice and serve hot.
It makes an enormous amount, so we eat it the first cooking and usually have 4 more quart containers left to freeze or eat for leftovers, which is nice considering the time you took to make it in the first place.  It is a great side dish in its own right and also wonderful in tacos, burritos, or enchiladas.

Now for variations...First you may not know what a pigeon pea is or cannot locate them.
Goya makes these in cans.  However, you can substitute anything from black-eyed peas to black beans to pinto beans or leave the beans out  if you aren't fond of them.  You could also halve the amount if you prefer a smaller bean-to-rice ratio.  I just like lots of beans.  The original recipe I started with called for 6 cups of rice to the amount of oil and sofrito.  I cut that back to 4 cups because we loved the additional spices.  You could cut that amount another cup with no problems or add more rice.  Just make sure to adjust the amount of salt accordingly.  Lastly, traditional recipes call for pork necks or ham hocks. Without meat, you simply cut calories and make it a lighter dish.  You could add any type of pork or sausage to make it smoky and more hearty.  It could even become a one-pot meal.

Here are the links to both my version and Daisy Martinez' original recipe for you to try, along with all the ingredients for fresh sofrito.

I hope you grow to love this recipe as much as our family does.  Please send me your comments with your successes and variations, and I will be sure to pass them along.  Happy eating!

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