Reconnecting with my Puerto Rican roots with a no-faff Instant Pot recipe

A multicooker speeds things up, but you won’t lose any of the tangy, herbal flavors of the classic dish of chicken and rice, writes G Daniela Galarza

Friday 06 August 2021 11:36
<p>Tinted rouge with achiote oil, this arroz con pollo is a gorgeous mess of chicken, rice, coriander and olives</p>

Tinted rouge with achiote oil, this arroz con pollo is a gorgeous mess of chicken, rice, coriander and olives

I’d love to tell a story about how I learned to make Puerto Rican food at the knee of my abuela. That I learned to listen for the sizzle of the sofrito hitting the fat in her battered pot, that I knew where she kept the can opener and that I loved to help measure the rice for her arroz con pollo.

But the truth is, I barely knew my father’s mother and haven’t spoken to my father in decades. As some things are, it’s better this way.

Instead, I learned to make arroz con pollo from my Iranian mother, who learned from my father’s mother, and whose instincts in the kitchen – a superpower sense of smell, a pitch-perfect taste for slight variations in flavour – taught me more about how to be a great cook than my overpriced culinary school.

That’s why I’m confident that nothing was lost in translation, and that this recipe is true to my family’s Puerto Rican-style arroz con pollo.

Except for one thing: it can be made in an Instant Pot.

Tinted rouge with achiote oil, this arroz con pollo is a gorgeous mess of chicken and rice, flecked with grassy coriander and briny Manzanilla olives.

It starts out like any other chicken-and-rice dish. On the multicooker’s saute setting, brown seasoned chicken legs in a touch of fat. Next, start a makeshift sofrito: diced onions, bell pepper and coriander go into the pot, and cook until they soften (if you have sofrito, use that instead). Turn off the heat, then add garlic, paprika, oregano and cumin – or sazón! – and let them toast slightly before adding a can of tomatoes, the browned chicken, a little broth, a handful of olives, a few capers and olive brine.

The brine is my grandmother’s “secret ingredient”. It was her way of adding salinity and acidity, which perked up the fattier flavours and gave her arroz con pollo a characteristic scent – briny but balanced. Believe me: it’s better this way.

The last step is the easiest. Seal the lid and set the multicooker to pressure cook. After just 10 minutes of cooking, plus 5 to 10 minutes to release the steam, dinner will be done.

Instant pot arroz con pollo

You can vary the seasoning in this to suit your tastes

Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Arroz con pollo recipes can be found throughout Latin America, and they’re all excellent. You can vary the seasoning in this to suit your tastes – more or less garlic, fewer olives, annatto paste instead of achiote oil, aji dulce peppers instead of bell – but it's worth sticking to the basic formula for best results.

After you allow the steam to release and open the multicooker, the rice may look very soupy. If that happens, fluff it with a fork and let it rest for a few more minutes with the lid ajar.

If your multicooker runs hot, you might slightly burn the rice. Wepa! You’ve made pegao, or what Puerto Ricans call the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot.

To make this recipe on the stove top: follow it exactly but increase the amount of broth or water to 1½ cups. After you add the rice and other ingredients, cover the pot, bring it to a boil, and then lower the heat and let it steam for 30 to 40 minutes.

Notes: The same weight of chicken thighs may be substituted for chicken legs, but sear them for 5 minutes longer on the SAUTE function.

To make achiote or annatto oil: in a small saucepan over medium, heat 1 teaspoon achiote seeds with 1 cup neutral oil until warm and the oil has turned red, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Store, with seeds in the oil, in a covered jar in a dark place for up to 6 months. Strain before using.


6 chicken legs (about 680g total; see notes)

½ tsp fine sea salt or table salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

4 tbsp achiote oil (see notes) or canola oil, divided

1 small yellow onion (about 115g), chopped

1 bell pepper, any colour, chopped

15g chopped fresh coriander leaves and stems, plus more for garnish, if desired

3 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp paprika, any kind

½ tsp ground cumin

One (400g) tin chopped tomatoes

240ml low-sodium chicken stock or water

220g white rice, such as jasmine, rinsed

45g pimento-stuffed manzanilla olives, plus 60ml olive brine

2 tbsp capers in brine


Set your multicooker to SAUTE. Season the chicken legs on all sides with the salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of the achiote or canola oil to the pot and brown the chicken on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Add the remaining oil, followed by the onion, bell pepper and coriander. Saute until the onions and peppers soften and just start to colour, about 5 minutes. Press CANCEL to turn off heat.

Add the garlic, oregano, paprika and cumin, and stir until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes, and deglaze the bottom of the pan well, using a rubber spatula to stir up any browned bits. Add the chicken, chicken stock or water, rice, olives, olive brine and capers. Using a spoon or spatula, make sure the rice is submerged in the liquid, but do not push it down to the bottom of the pot, and be sure that no stray grains are stuck to the side of the pot.

Cover, set the steam valve to PRESSURE (or SEALING) and turn to HIGH. After the cooker reaches high pressure, which takes 5 to 10 minutes, cook for 10 minutes. Once the cooking time has finished, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then open the valve to release any remaining pressure. Never put your hands or face near the vent when releasing steam. Remove the cover, fluff with a fork and serve, garnished with more chopped coriander, if desired.

© The Washington Post

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