WND – Arroz con Pollo or the Benefits of Speaking in Tongues

November 20, 2008


My roommate and I were down in Miami this past weekend, and I love Boston, I really do, but there’s something to be said for standing on the beach at midnight drinking mojitos in mid-November.  Frankly there’s something to be said for drinking mojitos at midnight no matter what the setting, but the beach was a nice touch.  While I was there it occurred to me, as it does periodically, that high school Spanish might have been more useful to my life than German (although German does have the dubious merit of making Latin seem easier by comparison).

My father is Dutch, and as a result speaks most major European languages with varying degrees of fluency.  I took a lot of high school German and walked away with an ability to watch Charlie’s Angels in German (and Remington Steele, and Hart to Hart and Scarecrow & Mrs. King – German cable aired a lot of ‘70s/early ‘80s detective shows in the afternoon).  I also took French for about 10 years, and while it doesn’t get much of a work out this side of the Atlantic it’s certainly good enough to give someone directions when it becomes apparent that their first language is not English (why there are so many French in Boston is a mystery I have yet to solve).

I pointed the nice, lost, lady in the right direction for Faneuil Hall.  She thanked me, complimented me on my French, and then as proof that no good deed goes unpunished, said I sounded Swiss.  There are no words for how horrified I am by this.  The Swiss sing-song.  They say septante and nonante.

It is not that I don’t understand the appeal of septante and nonante.  Or even that I don’t find them inherently more logical than soixante-dix and quatre-vingt-dix*.  In 17 years of living in and visiting my parents in French speaking countries quatre-vingt-dix-sept has never once equaled 97 in my head.  It has always equaled 4 x 20 + 17, and usually by the time I’ve done the math on that there’s been an unfortunately long pause in the conversation and someone is looking at me with concern.  However, there are lines that must be drawn, and Rubicons that must not be crossed, and also I’m a snob.  And really, Swiss!  Swiss, I ask you.

This, however, is not my point.  My point is that my father speaks in many tongues, and can ask for directions when we’re lost and translate museum signs in foreign countries.  My mother and I speak in a far fewer tongues, but can read a menu almost everywhere in Europe, Slavic nations excluded.  This is fine because the last time we were in a Slavic speaking country they had the same two things on the menu everywhere we went – chicken & dumplings and goulash.  You’ve never seen people so grateful to cross the border into Germany for the food as we were at the end of 10 days.

I don’t speak anything beyond menu Spanish and I imagine my accent is appalling.  But like most places, I can order dinner and coffee and not be worried about what I’m going to be served.  This is a more useful skill than you’d think.  My father may be able to talk to the taxi driver, but my mother and I know what innards are in Spanish, Italian, German and French.

* I always wondered why 70 and 90 get singled out for such special treatment.  Why is 60 soixante?  Why isn’t it deux-trente, or trois-vingt?  Why isn’t 50, deux-vingt-dix?

Arroz con Pollo
Dark Greens

Arroz con Pollo (Cuban Chicken with Rice)
(serves 8 )

The recipe came from Gourmet via smittenkitchen.com, and I suspect it’s about as Cuban as I am, which is to say not very.  That being true, it sounded good, and was, in fact, quite tasty.  The rice becomes creamy and almost risotto like.  I think next time I’d skip the chicken drumsticks, and just use chicken breasts and thighs because (a) deskinning chicken legs is a pain in the neck, and (b) they get a little scrawny looking after they’ve been skinned and cooked.

3 large garlic cloves
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
4 bone-in chicken breasts (halved crosswise)
4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs

Mash the garlic to a paste with the salt.  Mix with vinegar and oregano.

Remove the skin and excess fat from the chicken pieces, and then toss with the marinade.  Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for 1-2 hours.

Note:  I only marinated my chicken for about 40 minutes because more time and we wouldn’t have eaten until 9:00pm.  You can’t leave it to marinate overnight because the vinegar will do strange things to the texture of the chicken if you leave it too long.

3 oz chorizo, skin discarded
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
1 ½ Tbsp paprika (spicy if you have it)
1-2 bay leaves
1 ½ tsp salt
1 lb tomatoes, seeded & chopped*
12 oz beer (not dark)
1 ½ cups chicken stock
2 cups white rice

Slice the chorizo lengthwise, and then cut crosswise into ¼” slices.  Cook the chorizo in olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat until some of the fat is rendered (2-3 minutes).  Add onions, bell pepper, and garlic.  Cook until softened (about 5 minutes).


Add cumin, oregano, paprika, salt and bay leaves.  Cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).

Add chicken and marinade and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.


Remove the chicken from the pot.  Add tomatoes, beer, stock and rice.  Bring to a boil and then return chicken to the pot with any accumulated juices.  Make sure the rice is submerged, reduce heat to a simmer and then cover with a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper and cover tightly with lid.  Cook, stirring once or twice until the rice is tender (20-30 minutes).

Remove from heat and let stand, covered, about 5 minutes.

* We’re well out of tomato season here, so I used a 28oz can of whole tomatoes, drained, seeded and chopped.

Dark Leafy Greens

Recipe previously given:    Taking the Easy Way Out



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