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Recipe: Congri Rice

Arroz Congri / Moros y Cristianos
(Congri Rice / Christians & Moors)

This is a traditional Cuban rice dish where you cook the rice in the same water you soak and cook your beans in.  The black beans & rice version goes by the charmingly racist name Christians & Moors, though few people call it that anymore and you’ll find it in Cuban restaurants as “arroz congri”, or congri rice.

Ingredients, software:
Beans, black, dried: 1 lb.*
Bacon, thick cut: about 6 – 8 rashers (maybe ½ lb), cut into lardons
Green bell pepper, chopped
Red pimento pepper**, chopped
Onion, white or Vidalia, chopped
Garlic: 5 cloves, minced
Rice, long grain: 4 cups
Oregano – 1 tsp. dried or fresh (use more if it’s fresh)
Cumin – ½ tsp.
Bay leaf – three will do ya
Salt and pepper to taste
Chicken broth or stock, just in case

Hardware:
Pot for your beans
Large cooking vessel of your choice for the rice, something with a heavy lid. I use a Dutch oven because this is a large amount of rice and I like the way it conducts heat evenly.

*You can use dried beans here if you like, but I theorize you shouldn’t cook the beans independently if you do, and you definitely want to keep whatever reserved liquid is in the can.  Canned beans have already been cooked and cooking for much longer would likely turn them to mush.  Unless you like mushy beans, I guess.
**You can find these in small jars in the latin food aisle of most major megamarts.  They’re basically pickled red bell peppers, but the flesh is softer and much sweeter.  A small jar containing a single dissected specimen will do ya fine.

Procedure:
Part I: Prepare your beans:
1)     
Sort them, soak them overnight, you want at least 12 hours, don’t go more than 24.  Keep the juice!  In fact I boil my beans in the same water I soak them overnight in.
2)      Don’t salt your beans: Not yet anyway.  Wait until you’ve boiled them for about 20 minutes before you salt the beans.
3)      Boil your beans on high heat for a long time.  Add your bay leaf to your beans here.  At least 40 minutes, adding salt about 20 minutes in.  As your beans are boiling you can safely move on to setting up your mise en place for Part II.  Since the first few steps of part 2 take about 15 minutes, and you’ll need the beans to have finished cooking for step 6 of part 2, well, I’ll let you figure out your timing on that.

Part II: Rice construction:
1)      Put some heat to your large cooking vessel.  When good and hot, toss in your bacon.  Let the fat render out completely and the bacon to crisp up nicely.  Then, remove your bacon, but keep the bacon fat.
2)      Cook your onions in the bacon fat, with a pinch of salt.  Cook through until they are translucent, then…
3)      Add green peppers and red pimento.  Cook until the green peppers are soft, about 5 – 6 minutes, then…
4)      Add your garlic.  Cook for just a few moments, until your kitchen smells awesome.  Note: At this point, you have achieved sofrito, the Caribbean version of the French mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery) or the Cajun/Creole Trinity (bell peppers, onions, celery).  Then…
5)      Add your rice, and toss around quite a bit.  You want the rice to soak up as much of the bacon fat as possible, and to start to cook in the fat without frying in it.  It should take about 5 – 10 minutes, but your rice will eventually start to turn just a bit nutty.  Right at this moment, and not a moment later, you will…
6)      Add the bean juice.  Notably, not the beans themselves, just the juice of the beans.  You will want to measure out your liquids before hand – to cook 4 cups of rice you need about 4.5 – 5 cups of liquid, so if you don’t have 5 cups of bean juice, supplement that with chicken broth or chicken stock.  You will also want to salt the bean juice, or whatever broth you’re cooking with.  If you don’t salt now your rice will taste flat.
7)      Sprinkle with the oregano and cumin, put the spurs to her and bring to a boil.  When a boil is achieved, knock the temperature down to medium/low to maintain a good simmer, cover, and let the rice cook for 20 minutes.
8)      Once cooked through, add your beans, and stir, get everything well incorporated and taste your rice.  If it’s not cooked through, add a cup of broth, cover for another 5 minutes and give it another taste.
9)      Once everything is good and incorporated, and your rice is cooked through, let it rest for a good 10 minutes off of direct heat.  Do not uncover during this period.
10)  After your resting period is up, add your bacon, stir once again, and serve.

Notes:

  • You can choose to not use bacon for this dish to make a leaner version (though why on Earth would you?)  If that’s the case, use olive oil to cook your sofrito instead, you’ll want a good bit of it at least two tablespoons, otherwise you really won’t have enough to help pre-cook the rice.
  • That reminds me of an important safety tip: When you go to add the (hopefully still hot) bean liquid to the rice, be aware that the rice is incredibly hot.  Much, much hotter than necessary to boil a drop of water, so there will be steam produced immediately.  Incorporate gently, and watch your hands and face is what I’m saying.

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