Rice and shine

Arroz con pollo - chicken and rice - was my mum's go-to dish. The beauty of this recipe is that once you've added the stock, you can remove the pot from the heat and wait until your family or guests are almost ready to sit down before you add the rice.

I recall many times as a young boy playing cricket in the street with the neighbourhood kids in Geelong on summer evenings. Mum would yell out the front door in Spanish: ''Twenty minutes and I want you at the table. I have dropped the rice in the stock and rice waits for nobody.''

And, for the first day of spring, an asparagus dish, as asparagus heralds the season's arrival for me. It works well with rich flavours, and I have accompanied it here with egg and salmon.

At home, I like to grill it with good olive oil or a strong nutty dressing, such as romesco. But, as with all vegetables when they are in season, you don't have to do much to it at all.

SPRING PILAF WITH ASPARAGUS, SALMON AND EGG

2 bunches asparagus
50g butter
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/4 tsp turmeric
450g basmati rice
1 litre chicken stock, heated
Salt
700g salmon fillets, skin removed
4 eggs at room temperature
1 bunch chopped chives

Cut a piece of baking paper slightly larger than the circumference of your pot. To prepare the asparagus, snap off the woody ends by gently bending each stalk. Peel with a vegetable peeler, starting at the bottom and lightly peeling around the asparagus to about half-way up the stalk. Cut the tips into 3cm lengths, then the rest of the stalks into 1cm pieces. Melt butter in a wide saucepan (about 20cm diameter). Over a medium heat, gently cook bay leaves and onion, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until onion is soft and translucent. Add turmeric, cook for another minute. Stir in the rice until well coated. Pour in the hot stock and a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Add asparagus. Cover with baking paper and a well-fitting lid. Reduce heat to low and cook for 8 minutes. Place salmon fillets on top of rice and cover again with paper and lid. Cook a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, but keep covered for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place eggs in a saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Drain and peel. Remove saucepan lid and discard paper. Add chives. Using a fork, break salmon up a little and gently mix through the rice. Serve on individual plates topped with a single broken egg.

Serves 4

ARROZ CON POLLO (CHICKEN AND RICE)

1.6kg whole chicken, cut into 12 pieces (get your butcher to do this)
80ml olive oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
1 red capsicum, seeded and finely diced
1 green capsicum, seeded and finely diced
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1.5 litres chicken stock, heated
300g Calasparra (or short-grained) rice
Pinch of saffron threads
1/2 tsp Spanish sweet paprika
1/2 tsp thyme leaves, picked
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves
200g green flat or Roman beans, cut into 3cm lengths
Sea salt

Season chicken. Heat olive oil in a large pot over high heat. Add chicken pieces, reduce heat to medium and cook for 4 minutes, or until browned. Remove and cover. Add onion and capsicum to oil and saute for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion has softened. Add tomato, stir through and cook for 15 minutes or until pulpy, stirring occasionally. Return chicken to pan and pour in hot stock. Increase heat to high, bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add rice and stir through. Continue cooking for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, crush the saffron threads with paprika, thyme, peppercorns and garlic using a mortar and pestle. Add a few tablespoons of hot stock from the pan and mix well. Add spice mix to the rice and stir through. Add beans to pot and continue to cook for 15 minutes or until rice is just tender and the chicken cooked. Season with salt to taste.

Serves 4

Barcelona-born Frank Camorra is the chef and co-owner of Melbourne's MoVida Bar de Tapas. He is opening Movida Sydney in October.

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The story Rice and shine first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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