Monday, November 18, 2013

Comfort food: a quick, inauthentic asopao de pollo

Asopao is a Puerto Rican dish of soupy rice that is, eaten all over the  Spanish Caribbean.  It is sometimes translated as gumbo, but this is misleading, since okra and roux are the defining features of gumbo and this has neither.  Whatever it is, it is straightforward and comforting on a chilly night and it reminds me of Maurice Sendak's early book, Chicken Soup with Rice, which was one of our kids' favorites.

It is also a super-quick dinner.  While I generally go for hyper-authenticity rather than speed, sometimes one has to rise to the occasion and use what is on hand.  So, rather than achiote oil, which I don't have and don't care for, I used a pinch of turmeric which may or may not have a myriad of health benefits, but which we have in the house for Indian and Middle Eastern cooking.  Also,  though traditionally made with a whole chicken, skinless, boneless chicken thighs are easier and less fatty than whole chicken and juicier and tastier than breasts.   Finally, I made it with pareve soup powder, which is probably not an authentic Puerto Rican ingredient.

This takes about 45 minutes from beginning to end -- how I define quick and easy, if not everyone does.

Asopao de pollo -- Soupy chicken rice 


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • large pinch turmeric
  • 1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
  • 1 pound raw skinless, boneless chicken thighs, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 14 ounce can of chopped or diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted (with green chile or garlic is even better)
  • 1 green pepper, cored, seeded and cut into half inch dice
  • 1 red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into half inch dice
  • Salt and pepper to taste.  If using canned broth or soup powder, hold off on the salt until the end.
  • 6 cups chicken broth (ideally homemade, but in the real world, boxed, canned or even soup powder is acceptable, and tonight I used a large spoon of Osem's pareve chicken soup powder with boiling water)
  • 1/2 cup short grain rice, like Spanish rice, Arborio or Canaroli
  • 1/2 cup green peas (presumably frozen -- if you have wonderful fresh peas, use them in something else)
  • 1-2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 10-20 pimento stuffed green olives, rinsed and sliced
  • 4 scallions, while and some of the green, sliced


  1. Heat olive oil in a 4-quart pot on medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrot and celery to the pot and stir until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, cook about a minute, until soft but not borwned.
  4. Add turmeric, stir a few times, add half of the chopped herb, and then the chicken.  
  5. Cook on medium-high until the chicken looses its raw color.
  6. Add the tomato, bring to the simmer, add the chopped peppers, turn heat down, and cook on low for 10 minutes.
  7. Add the broth, bring to the boil, and turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  
  8. Add the rice and simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the peas, capers, and olives and simmer 5 minute more.  Taste the rice to make sure that it is cooked through, and if not, simmer for a few minutes more.
  10. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and set aside to settle and cool for 5 minutes before serving.
  11. Garnish with scallions and remaining herb.
  12. Serves 4 for dinner with a salad.