Grandma Abuela and Arroz con Pollo
Luisa Garcia, my "Grandma Abuela"
Although she died when I was five or six, I still have vivid memories of my great grandmother. She was a short, fat, old Spanish lady and I called her “Grandma Abuela”. When you think of elderly women from “the old country” she’s it!
Despite the fact that both of her young daughters looked like pin-ups, even in Luisa’s wedding picture, she was a stern looking woman.
She moved to the United States from Spain during Spain’s war in Haiti in 1920. My great grandfather was avoiding the draft and moved to the U.S. in 1918. Once he had saved up enough money, he sent for her.
By the time I came around, in the early 70’s, Luisa was an old woman living on a farm in Fontana, California. For years, she and José had raised conejos at the “Rabbitree”. I think they retired and closed the farm in the late sixties. But when I was a child, they still raised enough poultry for themselves. She used to take me out to the chicken coup to see the gallinas.
I never remember her calling me by my first name. It was always niña. In fact, I also never remember her speaking a word of English.
Luisa and José's Wedding Picture
My first memories of Christmas Day were at Grandpa Abuelo and Grandma Abuela’s house. The old house was full of funny Spanish odds and ends –I remember a figurine of a bull with picadores sticking out and lots of dolls of Spanish beauties dancing the Flamenco.
Among the piles of food would be turron candy in round metal tins. But the most exciting thing would be the arroz con pollo. Abuela would make a recipe that had by then been in the family for generations.
When she passed on in the early eighties, my grandmother continued the tradition for the next fifteen years or so. And when Grandma passed on, my mom made Arroz every Christmas. Now I, too, make Arroz each year. I can’t imagine Christmas without it.
The 40 lb Turkey
In my life, four generations have made this meal—all were slightly different reflections the women who made it and their environments.
Getting the recipe for this on paper wasn’t easy. The old lady measured things by handfuls and timed things by when it looks about right. My mother stood over my grandmother measuring out the eyeballed amounts and trying to get it right. (Mom is not from the Spanish side of the family, so she didn’t grow up making this recipe, but she still makes a damned good rendition!)
Very important to note is that z in arroz is pronounced like the th in thought.
- 10 cloves of garlic
- Olive oil
- 1 lb chicken thighs or drumettes
- 1 lb pork roast cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 green bell peppers
- 2 white onions
- Spanish red paprika
- Spanish cooking chorizo
- Bomba rice
- Bay Leaves
In a large pan (I tend to use a turkey roaster pan over two burners), toast ten cloves of garlic in olive oil. Take the cloves out of the oil and set them aside. Remove the garlic and place in bowl for future use.
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Brown chicken until golden color in same oil. Place chicken on paper towel covered dish.
Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Cube pork and brown in same oil.
Return chicken to pan with pork. Cover chicken and pork and let simmer until tender. Approximately 45 minutes.
Chop bell peppers and onion. Add to chicken/pork.
In a bowl, mix garlic, salt, pepper, and red paprika with two cups of water.
Pour the paprika mixture over the chicken/pork and let simmer for at least 30 minutes to allow the meat to soak up the flavors.
Boil chorizo for half hour. Take out and drain on paper towel. Cut chorizo lengthwise. Place under broiler until slightly crispy. Cut into small pieces and add to chicken/pork mixture.
Pour six cups of rice into the meat/oil/spices mixture. Swish the rice around so that it can soak up the flavorful oil mixture. Add twelve cups of water.
Add a few strings of saffron. Stir everything all around.
Cover and cook over low flame until rice is soft and tender. Besides the spices and tender meat, the most important thing in making good arroz is making sure the rice is cooked all the way through. Crunchy rice is not a good thing.
Time in the kitchen: about half a day
Feeds: about 10 —This makes amazing leftovers!