For those who know little about St. Croix, our foods reflect our diverse cultural background. About 40% of the population speaks Spanish so you would expect Spanish influences in our foods. Then another 40% is descendant from eastern Caribbean heritage and as you would expect, it has influenced our meals from roasted corn to stewed goat and the rich flavors of Asian Indian cooking transported from Trinidad. Without even consciously thinking about it, our local restaurants offer a Crucian Fusion Menu with almost every cultural reflected in their menus.
Years ago one very successful local restaurant (Oscars) offered Curry, pasta and meatballs, steak and baked potato, Arroz con Gandukes, Rice and Red Beans, Stewed Goat, Conch in butter sauce and more. Jimmy Carter visiting at Christmas village was so impressed with the local sweet potato stuffing, he asked for the recipe to take home with him. It is tough for a natural Fat Savage to not want to partake of all of the culinary offerings and learn to make them.
Arroz con Gandules is traditionally served as a side dish, but since the recipe included 4 oz of ham, I used it as the main course. I made it twice this year four months apart, but if I were a true Islander the frequency would be closer to every four days. Perhaps this is so popular because a can of pigeon peas and 50 cents worth of rice will feed eight people and it is fine when reheated or microwaved. The first time I tried it was in my coffeepot, but the more traditional and easier method is in my fondue pot which is essentially an electric skillet. So I will describe that First.
Puerto Rican Rice and Pigeon Peas (Arroz con Gandules)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
4 ox ham (cut from picnic steak)
1 small onion chopped
¼ cup green bell pepper chopped (1 very small)
2 cloves garlic minced
4 oz of Goya Tomato sauce
½ can Goya Pigeon Peas undrained.
1 slice 1/16 inch scotch bonnet or other hot pepper
1 packet Sazon Goya con Culantro y Achiote
1 ½ cup water
1 cup rice
The Goya label says you will make 8 portions with a full can and I believe it because even cutting the recipe in half, I had more than enough for 3 meals with no other food on the plate. The biggest challenge other than making good rice was splitting the can of pigeon peas in half and splitting the water that came with the peas in half. I froze the extra peas and water with the other half can of tomato sauce because I hate to feel obligated to plan meals around leftovers and if it doesn’t survive freezing, I will simply through it out. The two extra cooked portions were also frozen and I know from experience that frozen rice is just fine.
The fondue pot process was just as it said on the can. Turn the heat on to 250 (medium) and add the ham, onions and peppers and cook about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add everything else and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to just the boiling point, cover the pot and walk away and have faith you can’t do any better.
If there is too little heat, the rice won’t cook as fast but 20 minutes is usually enough on even exceptionally low heat. If it is too hot, the rice will stick to the pan which is not a big problem as you gently remove the Pigeon Peas and Rice from the pot leaving behind any burnt rice sticking to the bottom of the pot.
The hardest thing for a novice cook is to leave it alone for 20 minutes. If you open the lid and stir the pot to check and see if it’s too hot, you will turn the rice into a pasty mess that is definitely not Caribbean Style.
Now if making good rice in a stove top pot is tough it is almost impossible to do in a coffeepot and even worse in a Crockpot so don’t even try. The work around is to leave the water out of the recipe above and use microwave rice or buy cooked rice from a Chinese restaurant and then mix it in and serve your pigeon peas and rice right away. I ran one test where I left out the water and added an ounce of Cruzan Dark Rum to the pot and poured the microwave rice on top of the mixture of Peas and spices and ham and covered the pot with foil. About 45 minutes later, the rice was done so I stirred everything up and ate the delicious Arroz con Gandules.