Neighborhood Eats: Arroz con Pollo at Pilar Cuban Eatery in Brooklyn

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Lauren Glassberg reports on Pilar Cuban Eatery in Brooklyn.

Pilar Cuban Eatery started small and quickly gained a following. Ricardo Barreras owner, who is also the chef, came to professional cooking in a nontraditional way - and he has made it work for the past nine years.

The eatery is located at 397 Greene Avenue in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

"Our first spot was pretty tiny - 400 square feet. Busy all the time, so we built out a much nicer spot two blocks away," Barreras said.

Pilar Cuban Eatery is now nine years in, which is pretty impressive considering Barreras is not a trained chef - he is a psychologist, whose passion is cooking Cuban food.

"I have an iconic image of what something is, and I'm trying to replicate that - keeping it Cuban, not altering it. Keeping the DNA intact," Barreras adds.

Barreras only visited his parents' native Cuba for the first time a year and a half ago, but customers say he has got the cuisine and the vibe totally right.

"I love the Cubano ropa vieja, and of course the pernil," said one customer.

One dish that will also leave you smiling is the arroz con pollo.

Barreras marinades the chicken in herbs and sour orange. The meat is then browned. To that, he adds the sofrito made of garlic, onions and green pepper. Then he adds crushed tomatoes, homemade chicken stock, beer and spices, including saffron - and then the rice.

"We use a special rice called 'valencia,' which is short grain, typical Cubam way of doing it - very hard to find, but we sourced it," says Barreras.

The rice then cooks for 20 minutes and is a puddle of Cuban flavor.

A puddle of Cuban flavor, Barreras plans to open Pilar Cuban Bakery next door - after all, it is his neighborhood, and he is here to stay.

ARROZ CON POLLO - RECIPE
Serves 4

For the Sofrito:
4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp kosher salt (1 tbsp to be combined with the garlic)*

Smash salt and garlic with the back of a knife and combine to make a puree. Add olive oil to a pan and sauté garlic, onion and peppers for 15 minutes over medium heat. Set aside to add to the main dish.

Chicken
3 - 4 lbs chicken
For the Mojo
1 cup sour orange juice,
4 cloves fresh garlic
tsp cumin
tsp oregano
1 tbsp salt
cup olive oil
For the Dish:

8 oz crushed tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
12 oz beer (Lager or Pilsner)
12 oz Valencia short grain rice (or substitute medium-grain rice)
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
Pinch Saffron (approx 1 gram)
1 - 2 tbsp kosher salt (if using regular table salt but by half)

Marinate the chicken in mojo for 24 hours. Pat it dry to remove excess mojo. In a heavy bottom pot, brown the chicken in a sauté pan over medium high heat, approximately 5 minutes each side. Add the sofrito, tomatoes, stock, beer, rice and seasonings. Cook on medium heat for 20 - 25 minutes. The dish will still be soupy when done.

* If using regular salt instead of kosher salt, cut amount in half

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