We’re serving a big Puerto Rican feast again this weekend and working on meal planning. I came here to grab our standard Arroz con Gandules recipe and realized I somehow had never posted it. Most people I know who’ve tried this dish absolutely love it. I’ve had so many people ask for the recipe, some more than once. Hopefully Mom took care of them? If not, here we go!
The exception would be some of my Puerto Rican friends who had it multiple times a week, every week, growing up. And some of them change their tune when they’ve been away from it for a while. I had one friend wander down the hallway and into my room in college purely from the scent of it, surprised to see I’d figured out a way to keep some sofrito in my dorm fridge.
This is not the sort of recipe where you can make completely random substitutions and have it work out. Sofrito, the herbal mash, is not something that will taste the same with salsa verde. You can use chickpeas if you don’t have gandules, but you will need the sazon spice mix.
I’m lucky enough to be able to buy the sofrito fresh from a local store, though Goya and other brands do sell “recaito” in jars if you have to track it down online. We freeze the extra sofrito in ice cube trays, then bundle them into bags so they’re ready to use for this recipe.
Want to be super authentic? Make your own! I did this once, but kind of just depend on Tony’s now (the one on Belmont). Making it from scratch takes even more unusual ingredients (aji dulce, cubanelles, etc.) and it can be tricky to find them if you’re not in the right neighborhood.
This rice is traditionally made with ham or chicken. I usually go with the vegetarian version, mostly because I like having it be something I can make from pantry ingredients and I don’t always have ham on hand. Or spam. I hear that’s authentic too. So no, this isn’t the most authentic version you’ll find. But it tastes pretty darn good for a white girl’s version.
My friend Iris (author of the delicious pastelón recipe on this site) knows how to cook it with a dash of this and a stir of that, simmering uncovered on the stovetop. I have never been successful with that method. We found this version in the newspaper years ago and ended up taping it to our rice jar so we wouldn’t have to go digging for it all the time.
I’m not going to put myself up for competition with the “rice ladies” at my brother’s church anytime soon, but it’s got all the right flavors in it even if it is a quick & easy version. I’ll have to watch over an expert’s shoulder quite a few more times before I get the slow version to work for me.
Arroz con Gandules
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 packets sazon seasoning
- 2 1/2 Tbs sofrito
- 2 1/2 Tbs chopped manzanilla (green) olives
- 1/3 cup tomato sauce
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 3 cup uncooked white rice
- 1 (16 oz.) can pigeon peas, undrained
- Culantro/Recao (if you can find it, not required)
- more salt & pepper, to taste.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or dutch over over high heat – add sazon, sofrito, and olives first, then stir in the tomato sauce and salt. When well mixed, stir in the rice until well coated with seasonings.
Add the peas and enough water to cover the rice, about 2-3 cups. If you’re able to shop at stores with lots of fresh Puerto Rican ingredients, you can also add Culantro/Recao to the top at this point – a few leaves is all that’s necessary.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover and cook for 20-30 minutes or until done. Check towards the end to see if you may need more water. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.
Worried about it burning? (That can happen with this recipe) Use a heat diffuser between the pan and your stove:
Although… If you’re being very authentic, getting it to form a crunchy crust on the bottom of the pan as a treat you will set aside is called “pegao” – I’ve heard it means raising the temperature just at the end and watching it to make sure it doesn’t burn. I’m not good enough at this to do it on purpose, but I’ve used it as a garnish when it happened despite me.
Yield: 8-12 generous servings
Here’s a preview of other items from our menu this weekend, for anyone who’s curious: