MoM Feb ’09 Food & Wine: Chicken Sofrito

I had made a commitment to myself not to post any of the Magazine of the Month recipes, to encourage people to go out and buy the publications with me. However, Food and Wine is already publishing the latest recipes on their website — yes, everything from their latest magazine! That makes no sense to me, but hey, what do I know? So we’ll throw that rule out for now and when we get to a magazine who keeps their recipes a closely guarded secret (like Cook’s Illustrated — you have to purchase a separate subscription to get the same stuff online as you would in their magazines for some weird reason) then I’ll go back to only posting the pictures.

A couple of the folks at Food & Wine got together to talk about sparkling wines, and what food would be good with them. They came up with a slew of chicken dinners that I couldn’t wait to try. I make a lot of chicken at my house, so I picked one out and dug in.

Chicken Sofrito - Food & Wine Feb. '09

This is Chicken Sofrito, a chicken and rice combination with Spanish flavors. Everything is baked together in a skillet, then broiled at the end for a crisp coat. I don’t normally cook bone-in chicken with skin, but I thought for this time around I’d try something new. After giving it a go, it would be just as good with boneless, skinless breasts, and you could just eliminate the end broil.

Chicken Sofrito
Courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 whole chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for dusting
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 large thyme sprigs
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 cup short-grain white rice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup roasted almonds

I love anything that involves chicken and rice, and I’ve made a few basic dishes that involve Spanish-esque spices. This was definitely an upscale version that I will make again, and all of the other similar spiced recipes that I’ve made before will have to go in favor of this one.

As you can see in the picture below, I didn’t break up a couple of chicken legs and toss them into a skillet as notated in the ingredients list. I ended up buying separate packages of thighs and drums, and I had so many drumsticks that I just crammed as many as I could into the pan. That worked out well because we had a guest who really liked drumsticks. I think he ate three or four of them — just picked them right up and chowed down. Just so you know, I’m taking that as a compliment.

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with chili powder. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Frying Chicken Sofrito

Just a side note here: I seasoned my chicken lightly on both sides, and I did not season beneath the skin. My reasoning was that I knew they would later be sitting in a spiced bath of broth and tomatoes later, so I didn’t want to overdo it.

Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño and thyme sprigs to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the bell pepper, anise seeds, cayenne and the 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

I had a lot of reservations about adding that jalapeño to the pan. I had never cooked with one before and, though I knew most of the dangerous spice was the seeds and insides, I scraped everything out of the center of the jalapeño prior to dicing it up and using it. This ended up not being hot at all, and next time I’ll definitely tinker around with trying to get a little oomph in there — but not too much. You know I’m a spice wimp.

Sauteeing Onions and Spices

Add the chopped tomatoes, raise the heat to high and cook until bubbling. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a simmer. Arrange the chicken pieces on the rice, skin side up.

Chicken in Tomato and Broth

Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through and the rice is tender and has absorbed the stock.

I wasn’t able to find short grain rice at the store, so I used medium grain and it worked out fine.

Baked Chicken Sofrito, Pre-Broiled

Preheat the broiler. Broil the sofrito 6 inches from the heat for about 2 minutes, until the chicken skin is crisp. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

To be honest, I was pretty nervous about the broiler. I associate that with smoke and horribleness. I don’t know why. Maybe in the past I was guessing incorrectly at how to broil things, because this time it worked out well. I don’t have a separate broiler so, toward the end of the initial baking time, I switched it over to preheat the broiler. When the 25-minute baking timer went off, I took the frying pan and set it on the top rack, six inches from the top of the oven, as prescribed.

Then I set the timer for 2 minutes, but I flipped the light switch on and stayed there and watched it through the glass like a hawk. I don’t think I let it stay there for the entire two minutes, because I was nervous about it for some reason. Still, as you can see from the picture, I got a nicely crisped, brown chicken skin.

Chicken Sofrito, Post-Broil

Discard the thyme sprigs, stir the lemon juice into the rice and scatter the almonds on top. Spoon the rice onto plates, add the chicken and serve.

When I went to discard the thyme sprigs, all of the little thyme leaves had come off into the dish (which is what’s supposed to happen), and left me with these thin little wispy branches. They were a little hard to find, but I did find them. Also, I only used the juice from half of a lemon, and I think it could have used a little more. Next time I’ll play with it a bit. I also did not add the almonds, because I didn’t know if the crunch in the rice was going to throw anyone off. Considering the rice was a mix of red pepper and onion (two things my spouse hates) I didn’t want to toss out a third thing that might totally derail the dish.

And here’s the plating. I really should buy some neutral colored dishes, but these sunflower gold ones are just so fun.

Chicken Sofrito Plated

Overall, I loved the dish and will make it again. The rice was flavorful as long as you keep tasting it at the end to check on your lemon addition and whether or not the rice needs more salt. For some reason, mine did. I was shocked at how much rice it served. Even though it only called for 1 cup of rice, I swear I enough to last me for weeks. The chicken was perfect and may give me a reason to start buying bone-in chicken with skin. It’s not as healthy, but in this incarnation it was damn good.

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