Monday, July 27, 2009

arroz by any other name

On Saturday, I was puttering around the kitchen getting ready to fix one of my favorite dishes: arroz con pollo y verduras.

The recipe is my own. It started as a basic Mexican red rice recipe: sautéed rice cooked in chicken broth and a tomato-chili sauce.

For those of you up north, it is similar to the old-fashioned Spanish rice recipe that showed up in every other issue of Better Homes and Gardens -- except this dish actually tastes good.

But a dish that basic needs a little accessorizing. And there are plenty of vegetables that do the trick.

On Saturday, I had tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers (yellow and red), Jalapeño peppers, onion, and baby zucchini. As well as the remnants of pollo asado from my dinner a few afternoons prior.

I had all of the ingredients laid out on the kitchen island -- ready for my impersonation of a human Veg-o-matic.

Marta stopped to see what I was doing. I told her.

She just shook her head and maternally repeated my name three times.

Remember when your mother used to do that? It was never followed with: "What a creative genius you are."

About a month ago, Marta saw me looking through Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday -- a retirement gift from my colleague, Jaye. Marta looked through it with me. I would translate the recipes as well as I could and she compared the pictures with my efforts.

She told me, in her opinion, the author knew nothing of true Mexican cooking. He had too many ingredients. Too many tastes. Mexican food is simple.

I got the same lecture on Saturday. If I was going to make Mexican red rice, fine. That would be rice boiled with some tomato sauce and a green chili pepper. Nothing else. All of my vegetables and chicken would simply get in the way.

I understand her point. Almost every Mexican meal I have eaten since I came down in April has been extremely simple: whether tacos or quesadillas or pollo asado, there are usually no more than two or three ingredients. Just about the way our mothers cooked in the 50s.

But that is why I learned to cook. I wanted to take basic recipes and experiment.

I do admit that some west coast fusion cuisines have turned almost neurotically rococo. But it is possible to have fun with food and still have a good eat.

And I did just that. My arroz con pollo y verduras turned out to be exactly what I wanted it to be: filling, as well as challenging on the tongue.

My sole concern is my ongoing battle of trying to eke out enough heat out from my propane-powered stove. But that is for another post.

Because I had so many ingredients, I now have eight servings of the dish that will hold me through the remainder of the week -- unless you want to stop by and share a bit of Mexican rice with an organic twist.

I doubt Marta would like it.


Anonymous said...

MMMM. Sounds good to me. I would add sausage.


Anonymous said...

What anonymous said but "mexican" sausage and some shrimp. This is making me hungry. Ah heck, make paella and we all be over for a meal.


maria luz said...

Take it from a girl who grew up in a half Mexican household. You are definitely closer to right and Marta is, well, simply a regional cook. Rick by the way, indeed knows his stuff. He and Diana are the masters. But you already know that. And Diana's way may not be Rick's way. But, I digress.

Real Arroz Con Pollo is a much more elaborate affair than Marta would ever dream of. In the great words of Felipe, "the cooking is quite provincial". And, in each province there are changes to virtually all recipes. One recalls a debate from his writings on morisqueta. In other words, a rose by any other name is NOT A ROSE. It is simply something else.

As you well know, all cooks, everywhere, make the changes based on availability of ingredients, the budget, and that all encompassing and pervasive Mexican element, tradition. Mi abuelita y mi mama, and all that stuff.

My mother grew up eating the food of her Mexican heritage even after moving to NYC in the early 1900's during the revolution. Much to my grandmother's delight, all of the "traditional" ingredients for a good Mexican arroz con pollo were readily available. Her recipe, as I received it, was pretty much the same as the one she used in Mexico City in the late 1800's. And it is the one my great French grandmother learned in the mid- 1800's upon arriving in Mexico City from Louisiana during the time of Maximilian, while giving birth to my grandmother at Matamoros, along the way. And that is barring all influences that Creole cooking previously had on her. That is what my mother passed on down to me. Why? Because "it's tradition!", she would always say. And that is what my Basque grandfather required; a Mexican version of Paella, of sorts, with chicken being readily available over fresh seafood. It is also the same recipe that my cousin still makes in Mexico City to this day.

So, as I said, your version is closer to what most would call the "correct recipe". Yet, for Marta's neck of the woods, perhaps her budget, and we might throw in her her level of cooking finesse, she is correct as well. Ni modo.

As always, for every recipe there are as many versions as their are cooks. But, I would rather eat your version. Yum! And then I would like to make a few "corrections"....

But that is another post entirely.

Buen provecho!

Bev said...

Save some for me. I'll be right over. Bev from Kansas City

Anonymous said...

I would love to!

Calypso said...

I have a series of Bayless videos I have passed by a few 'cooks' over here in Xico - They respond the same as your Marta - too many ingredients - perhaps - the food prepared in our area is plenty spicy and very flavorful so it may very well be unnecessarily complex like many things U.S. compared to Mexico.

MD in Texas said...

Sounds good to me too!

We did our own play on rice this weekend.....adding green onion, roasted poblano, and habanero. It was really great, just needed a little more of the poblano and habanero to increase the kick!

Enjoy the leftovers!

Inmigrante Rentista said...

Steve, invest in a FoodSaver storage system. Saves you from eating the same thing for days at a time.

Anonymous said...

Your recipe sounded great.


Islagringo said...

I agree. Marta has covered all of Mexican cooking with the same blanket. Simple ingredients? Ask her how she makes mole!

I've written many times on my blog of how I hate to cook. That all changed for me when I received a great cookbook as a gift. It has changed my whole culinary life. Last week I made Pollo Deshebrado en Salsa Verde. Order it from Amazon. A must have.

1000 Mexican Recipes by Marge Poore.

jennifer rose said...

Your maid is Mexican, speaks Spanish, and is capable of cooking some food. That alone does not make her the be-all and end-all on Mexican cuisine. I'm laying good odds that this simple person has not read many books, has not tasted cuisines of other parts of Mexican beyond Melaque, and has not ventured more than 100 miles from where she's standing right now. Knorr Suiza is likely the best seasoning she's ever seen.

Don't fall into the trap that befalls so many foreigners. Not all Mexican woman are good cooks. Not any more than smiling is the Mexican national hobby or breaking into dance at the drop of a hat.

1st Mate said...

Steve - The Mexican version a la Marta ignores one very crucial point our gringa mamas always made: "Eat your vegetables!" Your version has plenty of veggies, which means you're not filling up completely on rice and chicken (plus you get more leftovers). The traditional recipe is based on budgetary concerns: rice and peppers and tomato sauce are cheap in Mexico. They also contribute to the barrel shape one sees so often here.

Constantino said...

you are the one who is eating it, you are the one that is cooking it, you are the one that knows what you like, you are the one who bought the ingredients, all others be damned.
When they cook they can put anything they want into it!

Ruth said...

1st Mate is very wise when pointing out that traditional recipes are often based on budgets. Your version sounds really good and if I did not live over 2,000 miles away I would come over for some leftovers. Keep sharing your recipes.

glorv1 said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Maria Luz on everything she said. I personally love arroz con pollo caldo style. You are really getting into your new life and I hope Mr. Jiggs is doing good. Don't forget to not give Jiggs any of your arroz con pollo because it has onions in it. Bad thing for a family pet member. Of course he could eat the chicken, but be sure to clean it off, don't want to get any onion pieces in his chicken. Listen to me will you. Who do I think I am. :D Take care and enjoy you dish for the next few days. Have a great week.

Leslie Limon said...

I'd like to add my two cents to this Mexican food controversy. Mexican food NOB is nothing like the actual food in Mexico. Yes, it's delicious with many flavors and colors, but it's not authentic. Could be that the recipes have evolved.

I agree with Martha. What so many Mexicans love about their traditional recipes, is that they are simple, with basic ingredients. Regardless of social class, income or if the person has travelled the country, most Mexicans prefer the "simpler" recipes. The recipes for arroz, mole and other authentic recipes have remained the same for centuries! And will remain the same for centuries to come.

This is one of the reasons why I started my recipe blog. When I first married, I wanted to impress my hubby with my Mexican food. But it was Americanized Mexican food, and he wasn't that impressed. He longed for the food of his homeland. I bought tons of cookbooks that specialized in Mexican food, but none came close to the real thing. Over the years, I have learned to make the authentic Mexico Mexican food and now I'm sharing that knowledge with others who might be in the same situation.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

I think maybe you are really Cuban! Arroz con pollo Cuban style has more ingredients,but even Cubans would have served the verduras on the side, and of course the rice should be yellow not red. Here is a good recipe

I agree that the one dish meal is not traditional unless it's a stew like pulchero or a tinga and even then the amount of veggies is limited. What I am most familar with is foods served with rice sometimes have the more liquid guiso ladled on top.

I also have a favorite Rick Bayless cookbook and it's "Authentic Mexican, regional cooking from the heart of Mexico.

I also think that maybe you approach food from a different viewpoint than Marta. Let's face it she probably produces meals rather than cooks to entertain herself, foods with various ingredients are for fiestas and holidays.I know my cooking has changed since I no longer rush home to feed the starving hoards but rather spend time creating a meal for two.


Steve Cotton said...

Horst -- Your suggestion for everyone is to add a sausage -- good German that you are.

Corrinne -- My recipe gets awfully close to paella. I just need to dig a fire pit in the back yard.

Maria Luz -- I am amazed that food can create even more divisions than Protestantism. I usually wing most of my cooking without recipes -- basing combinations on what has worked in the past or what sounds interesting. Not much tradition in this post-modern household.

Bev -- You better hurry. It is almost gone.

Min -- You, too.

Calypso -- Americans cook as if there were no limitations. It reflects our national character. Most of the world cooks as if tomorrow may not provide anything for the pot.

MD in Texas -- I like your style.

Inmigrante Rentista -- I have no problem eating my leftovers for three or four days in a row. If it was good the first time, it will be just as good thr next few afternoons. I am not one of those people who believes everything is ruined by repetition -- even Paris.

Mom -- It was. It is. It shall be. Arroz without end.

Islagringo -- I will take a look at it. I am trying to avoid acquiring new things -- to guarantee my ability to move within an hour's notice.

Jennifer -- Marta is originally from Patzcuaro. But, you are correct, she is a simple soul. And I was not generalizing from a single opinion. I was merely offering Marta's view on the rice pot.

1st Mate -- One of my Mexican neighbors was amazed at the number of vegetables (especially, leaf lettuce) that I eat. He thought it was a waste of stomach space to eat all those "weeds."

Constantino -- I would generally agree -- but for one thing. I learn new ways by listening to others. I would have missed the joy of baby zuchinni had I adopted that approach. Hated the stuff in The States -- or thought I did.

Ruth -- I agree. Budgets -- and life expectations. I suspect most people would not think of sliced lamb over arugula with a pomegrante-habanero sauce.

Gloria -- Jiggs is on a dog food only diet. No treats of any kind.

Leslie -- I am not certain what to make of the term "authentic" any more. I grew up with authentic American cooking in the 50s, and I know I do not want any more of it.

Theresa -- My Cuban friends must be rubbing off on me. Marta has a large family to feed -- and she works long hours. She is probably happy to have her tasks as simple as possible.

Anonymous said...

F bought me a Mexican cookbook a while back. I had wanted to learn how to make salsas, etc. But upon leafing through the book, which was written in Spanish, I discovered that it was a Spanish translation of a book published by Lane Publishing, best known for Sunset magazine. (Which is a west-coast lifestyle mag for those not familiar.)

Somehow that fact kind of ruined it for me. But it shouldn't since F seemed to think it was authentic, and he's a sophisticated Mexican who can also cook.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where, contrary to popular opinion, we don't actually eat many beans.

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- Good food is good food. That is why I am rather dubious of any cuisine labeled "authentic." I was half way through a Mexican Red Recipe I received from a local Mexican woman when I realized it looked just like the Spanish Rice recipe in my old Better Homes and Garden cook book. That didn't bother me because every recipe has to come from somewhere. I did draw the line at the nachos served in Puerto Vallarta that featured a microwaved jar of Cheez-Whiz.