There’s nothing more quintessentially Puerto Rican than arroz con gandules. It’s part of our national dish (along with Pernil). For holidays, birthdays, baby showers, and more, if there’s a party, this dish will be there. Everyone has a little twist on how they prepare this dish, but here’s my version.
To make arroz con gandules properly, I believe you can only use one kind of pot, a caldero. Caldero literally translates into cauldron. It’s similar to a Dutch oven, but instead of being made from cast iron, it’s usually fabricated from aluminum. Every self-respecting Puerto Rican household has one. They’re passed on, generation to generation, much like cast iron pans are. The tapered edges and rounded bottom allows for steam to circulate through the rice, and produced a fluffy texture that is more difficult to achieve in a regular stock pot. These pots are also great for braising meats, stews and soups, and are oven safe (with a metal knob).
Gandules (aka pigeon peas) are an exotic ingredient to most folks outside of the Caribbean. Pigeon peas, popular throughout the Caribbean West Indies, are small, oval beans with a nutty flavor. They can be found fresh, frozen, canned or dried. They are a bright green color when fresh. If you can get them fresh or frozen (I’ve found them in NJ Latin food markets), go for it, they’re even more flavorful and nutty. If you can’t find them, you can substitute with canned pinto, pink or red beans and it’ll still be delish! And make sure you have fresh sofrito on hand, it’s the most essential ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking.
Parboiled rice is my favorite for this recipe because it’s almost impossible to end up with mushy rice. You want the grains of rice to be loose and not sticky. Parboiled rice has been partially cooked, so some of the starch has been removed. This makes the rice less sticky, which is this case, is exactly what we want.
Arroz con gandules freezes very well, so make a big batch and portion it into storage bags for a quick weeknight side dish. To reheat, transfer into a microwave safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until the rice is hot & fluffy.
Arroz Con Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice with Pigeon Peas)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup country ham or bacon, diced (optional)
- 1/3 cup sofrito
- 3 cups water or low sodium chicken broth
- 1 ½ tsp sazón con achiote y culantro
- 1 cube chicken bouillon or more if needed
- 2 tbsp tomato paste or 1/3 cup tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning or oregano Italian seasoning consists of dried herbs such as basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped optional
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons pimento stuffed olives optional
- 15 ounce can Pigeon Peas/Gandules drained and rinsed
- 2 cups parboiled rice
Heat your caldero or Dutch oven to medium heat, and add your olive oil, bacon/ham (if using) and sofrito. Stir constantly until fragrant and tender, but not browned, about 4 minutes.
Next add in the Sazon, tomato sauce or paste and chicken bouillon. Stir to combine.
Add in the drained pigeon peas, Italian seasoning or oregano, bay leaves, and water/broth. Add the cilantro and/or olives, if using. Allow the liquid to come up to a boil, and taste it for salt. If it needs more saltiness, add in another chicken bouillon cube. You want this liquid to be highly seasoned, as it will determine the final seasoning of the rice.
Once the mixture is boiling, add the rice. Stir the rice to get it submerged and distribute the pigeon peas throughout.
Cover and allow the rice to absorb all the visible liquid. Once most of the visible surface liquid is absorbed, stir the rice, and cover again. Lower the flame to low, and allow it to steam for 20-25 minutes. It's done with all the liquid is absorbed and the grains are fluffy and fully cooked.
This recipe freezes very well, so make a big batch and portion it into storage bags for a quick weeknight side dish. To reheat, transfer into a microwave safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until the rice is hot & fluffy.