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My grandmother in the backyard of the house in Hayward in the 40’s and on her last trip to her birthplace Lihue, Kauai mid 90’s.

 

My great-grandparents were born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. They left the island in 1899 as part of only 5000 documented immigrants to work on the island of Kauai in the sugarcane fields after two devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico. They settled in Lihue, just a mile away from where the airport is today. My great-grandparents had 13 children there before bringing them to California and settling in the East Bay during the early 30’s.

They bought a house in Hayward and moved it across town to a small lot where my grandmother grew up as a teenager and would eventually pass away in. I would spend as much time as I could in the kitchen with her. When we sat and looked through old photo albums the images of celebrations from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s reminded me of what a special place this was.

My grandmother didn’t have a written recipe for this dish and things were never labeled on the pantry shelf – most of the time ingredient portions were measured with “just a little bit of that.”

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Arroz con Pollo

1/4 cup achiote oil
6 chicken thighs,
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Sofrito, recipe follows
1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed olives, cut in half
2 cups long-grain rice
3 1/4 chicken stock
1 can gandules

Achiote oil:
1 cup lard
2 tablespoons annatto seeds

Sofrito:
2 yellow onions, cut into large chunks
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro, washed
1 red bell pepper, cut into pieces
1 green bell pepper, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Soak the rice in hot water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse until the water runs clear.

Heat the achiote oil in a wide, shallow pan (that has a lid). Season the chicken with salt and pepper and fry on both sides until brown. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the sofrito, cooking until most of the moisture is gone.

Stir in the rice and coat with the sofrito and achiote oil. Stir in the olives, gandules and the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Arrange the chicken pieces into the rice and let the dish come back up to a boil. Lower the heat and let some of the liquid evaporate before covering with the lid. Cook on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes.

Achiote oil:
Heat the lard and annatto seeds in a small pan over medium heat until the lard turns a deep orange color. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Sofrito:
Place the onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers and vinegar in a food processor and puree until smooth. Any extra can be frozen or refrigerated.

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