It can be hard to make brown food look delicious even when you don’t photograph it with an iPhone. But this may be particularly ugly even by brown food standards. It looks more like John Hurt’s exploded stomach from “Alien” than anyone’s idea of an appetizing dinner.
It did smell wonderful, enough so that all the little girl people and the dog in my house kept cycling through the kitchen to find out when dinner would be ready.
What we have here is an improvised steamed rice dish with links of Italian sausage and pieces of bone-in chicken. I suppose it is akin to paella though I don’t want to bastardize the word. Paella uses short grain rice, cooks in a shallow vessel and should develop a crunchy crust. This dish used long-grain rice and cooked with a tight-fitting lid. The rice came out moist and clumpy, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Late winter is the perfect time for moist, clumpy, Alien-stomach rice.
What gave this particular version an appealing depth was the ingredient pictured next to the pan: Goya Tomato Sofrito. It is available at just about any supermarket with a Latin foods aisle.
Sofrito (or soffrito in Italian) is a flavor base used in many Latin cuisines. It’s essentially a saute of aromatic vegetables (and, sometimes, ham) used as a foundation. This particular one has tomato, green pepper, onion, garlic and oregano among other ingredients. I like using it as a cheat — a way to bolster the flavors of sauteed onions and peppers that otherwise would only come with long, long cooking. From grocery bags on the counter to dinner on the plate, this dish only took me 45 minutes.
Unless you transfer the ingredients to a casserole and bake it, you’ll need a pan that is at least 12 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches thick.
Season the chicken pieces well and saute over medium high heat in the large pan in a healthy coating of vegetable oil until crisp, well browned all over and halfway cooked — about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, simmer the sausages in water in a separate pan to rid them of their fat and partially cook (about 5 minutes), then add them to the chicken pan to brown all over. Remove the chicken and sausages to hold on the side and pour excess oil from the pan.
Add chopped onion and pepper and cook over medium heat until translucent — about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the tomato juice into a large measuring cup. Add the chicken broth and enough water to make 4 cups total liquid.
Add the rice to the pan and stir until each grain glistens. Add the sofrito and stir just until it begins to stick and color on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and the 4 cups liquid. Stir well to remove any bits from the bottom of the pan. It should be perfectly smooth. Add the chicken and sausage and any juices that pooled in the holding plate. Arrange the meat so it looks like an attractive environment for a baby alien to burst through, cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and cook another 1o minutes. Check to make sure the liquid is nearly fully absorbed and let rest for another 10 minutes before serving.