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Monday, October 13, 2008

My Definitive Recipe for Arroz al Horno*

*unless I make improvements

Baked rice is probably my favorite Valencian recipe, if not my favorite Spanish dish, if not one of my all-time favorite meals. It is also the second most iconic dish in the category of Valencian food, first being paella, of course. I prefer it to paella if for no other reason than that I don't really have the stove needed to cook a huge pan of paella, a dish that requires a constant heat to the whole pan—at least to do it well. Traditional paella is usually cooked over a wood fire for this reason. Arroz al Horno, as the name states, is cooked in the oven. An oven I got. People used to cook this in their big neighborhood ovens back when that wasn't a common item in everyone's home.

I have made this dish more than just about any other dish in my repertoire—almost every Sunday during the winter months. I have developed my own tricks for it and my Arroz al Horno is pretty good, just ask anyone who has tried it, and all my friends have tried it. I think that this says more about just how good this dish is when prepared competently than anything about my own cooking ability. It is an easy dish to make if you have someone—let's say your Spanish grandmother—walk you through it once or twice. For all of you out there, allow me to be the Spanish grandmother we never had.

My recipe detours a bit from the traditional method on just a couple points. I love potatoes so I use more potatoes than you will find in traditional recipes. I cover almost the entire top of the baking dish with potatoes. The potatoes act like a heat shield—just like on the space shuttle. The spuds protect the other, more delicate ingredients. I don't use bacon. I love bacon but it's really not necessary in this dish. Other than that mine is your typical Spanish granmother's Arroz al Horno.

Arroz al Horno

2 cups rice (I use Fallera Valencian rice)
5 cups stock (chicken, beef, or pork will do)
2-3 Chorizo sausages
2-3 Morcilla sausages (I sometimes substitute blanquet sausages)
Pork ribs cut into cubes
4 tomatoes
1 ½ cup cooked garbanzo beans (I use a 400g. jar)
1 bulb of garlic
3 large potatoes
Saffron, salt

Begin by peeling the potatoes (or don't peel them) I boil them until they are just a bit tender. Most Valencian recipes call for you to slice the potatoes and cook them in a generous amount of olive oil. I think the potatoes come out better if you parboil them first and then slice them

Heat the stock to a boil. Add the pre-cooked garbanzos and when stock returns to a boil take it off the heat and add the saffron. You want everything to be hot that goes into the baking dish.

Slice the chorizo into bite-size bits and cook them. Add the chorizo to the baking dish and wipe the fat from the pan with a paper towel.

Cook the lightly salted ribs in olive oil until they are browned but not over-cooked. Remove and put the meat in the baking dish.

Finely dice and onion and a garlic clove for the rice sofrito. Sauté the rice in the rib fat with olive oil, tomato, and garlic as you would with risotto. Stir constantly. When it has cooked a bit and coated thoroughly with the sofrito, add it to the baking dish.

Trim the tomatoes. I use an apple corer to completely remove the middle. Slice the tomatoes in half along their width. Season the cut ends with salt and a bit of oregano.

Pour the stock with the garbanzos into the baking dish. Stir the contents of the dish so everything is mixed well.

Add the tomato slices and morcilla around the dish. Place the garlic bulb in the center.

Slice the potatoes at about ¼ inch thickness and lay them on top of everything else in the baking dish except the tomatoes. Salt the top of the potatoes.

Place the dish into a pre-heated oven at about º190. When the tops of the potatoes begin to brown remove the dish, flip the potatoes, season the tops, and return the dish to the oven. When the tops of the other side of the potatoes are browned a bit, cover the dish. Remove the dish when the stock has evaporated.

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