About This Imperial Rice Recipe
Love the spice and heat of Cuban cuisine and the creamy, gooeyness of Italian food? How about we combine them both! This Cuban Style Imperial Rice is the perfect blend of the two. Think of it as Cuban lasagna, offering you the best of both worlds.
As the cold weather sets in, so does our desire for hot, comforting meals. And what can be more comforting than fluffy yellow rice, juicy tender chicken, and melted cheese?
This Cuban Style Imperial Rice, or arroz con pollo, with chicken, ham, and cheese is made of delicious layers of yellow rice, shredded chicken, and ham that are all kept together by melted cheese and mayonnaise.
Now, the ingredient list may seem too long but don’t be scared. Most of the ingredients are common in our kitchens, and while the dish may take a little bit longer to prepare, the result will be so, so good that you’ll want to make it again and again.
This recipe is a great twist on the classic chicken and rice combination, just loaded with layers of delicious melted cheese and ham, prepared Cuban style. The layers of different textures and unique flavors in this dish are a great way to bring a little bit of Cuban cuisine to your kitchen.
The best part? You can make this dish any time of the year, making it a fantastic comfort food as well as a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, perfect for parties or family gatherings that will have everyone going for more.
What You Need for This Imperial Rice Recipe
- Long-Grain Rice: The long-grain rice has distinct firm grains that stay fluffy and separate after cooking, making it perfect for this recipe. I have used Basmati rice, but any other long-grain rice like Jasmine rice or American long-grain will also be good.
- Chicken Breast: Chicken breast is an excellent source of lean protein and a good source of vitamins and minerals. I have opted for the chicken breast, but you may also use boneless chicken thighs.
- Tomato Sauce: Great for adding some depth and tang. You may also use chopped tomatoes, but you’ll need to cook them down in the chicken sauce.
- Shredded Cheese: You want to see the melted cheesy strings when you dig into this dish. So always opt for a melty cheese like mozzarella or cheddar or Gouda, or a mix would be even better.
- Mayonnaise: It is an essential ingredient of this dish and helps to bind together all the ingredients.
- Bijol: Bijol powder, also known as achiote or annatto, is the “secret” Latin seasoning that gives Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean dishes a lovely yellow color.
- Green Peas: Perfect for an extra pop of color, green peas would also add a delicious texture to the rice.
- Bijol: If you cannot find Bijol, you can substitute it with turmeric or saffron.
- White wine: If you don’t want to use wine, you may substitute it with chicken broth.
- Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise can be substituted with any other fat-cream sauce like butter sauce or even béchamel sauce.
- Chicken: Ground beef or ground turkey would also work great instead of chicken breast.
Can I use white rice instead of yellow?
Bijol is a “secret” ingredient from Cuban cuisine that is all about flavors and colors, so yellow rice is highly recommended for this recipe.
Can I make the Cuban Style Imperial Rice with Chicken, Ham, and Cheese in advance and store it in the freezer?
Yes, it can be cooked and stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Can I make it vegetarian?
Yes. If you want a meat-free option, avoid the chicken and do a veggie sauté instead.
Cuban Style Imperial Rice With Chicken, Ham, and Cheese
Cuban Style Imperial Rice with chicken, ham, and cheese is the definition of a comfort dish. Classic yet modern, this is the dish you want to cook for family dinners or even for a night-in on a cold evening.
Yield: 4 servings
Shredded Chicken (and chicken sauce)
For the Layers
How To Make Imperial Rice Step By Step
Start by making the chicken broth.
Place the chicken breast in a medium pot, add water, half of the white/brown onion, the chicken stock cube, salt to taste, and bring to a boil (1).
Cook over medium-low heat for around 1 hour. Once cooked, strain the chicken out and keep the broth aside as you will need it to cook the rice. Shred the chicken using your fingers or two forks and set aside (2).
Now that you have the chicken broth, it’s time to make the yellow rice.
Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the chopped white/brown onion and cook for 2-3 minutes (1). Add the rice, cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine and let it evaporate. Add the Bijol and the chicken broth (2), mix well, and let it cook over medium-low heat for around 15 minutes (3) or until the rice is fully cooked through (4).
Let’s move on to making the final element — chicken sauce.
In a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat, add the remaining chopped onion, the chopped garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes (1).
Add the shredded chicken breast, the chopped red and green bell pepper, tomato sauce, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, and let it simmer over medium-low heat for around 10 minutes (2). If needed, add a little bit of chicken broth to keep the sauce moist, but be careful, it shouldn’t be too liquidy. Add the frozen peas (3) and let it simmer for another 5 minutes (4).
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF).
It’s time to create the layers, the same as you would in a lasagna.
You will need an oven-safe dish. For the quantity of ingredients given, I have used a 24 x 18 x 6 cm (9 x 7 x 2 inches) dish. Divide your yellow rice into 3 equal parts so that you can make 3 layers.
First, start by spreading a thin layer of mayonnaise at the bottom to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the dish (1). Next, add a layer of yellow rice (2), then a thin layer of mayonnaise (3), followed by a layer of shredded cheese (4), and a layer of chicken sauce (5). Continue with another layer of yellow rice, mayonnaise (6), ham, and shredded cheese (7), and follow with another layer of yellow rice, topping it off with a layer of shredded cheese (8).
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are brown and the cheese is completely melted.
Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, and some roasted peppers if you wish. Enjoy while hot!
- Make sure you have all the ingredients prepared and ready to go — yellow rice, chicken sauce, mayo, shredded cheese, and ham before starting to create the layers. You don’t want to wait for the chicken sauce to cook when you’ve already layered the rice.
- If you don't have enough time, use a store-bought rotisserie chicken and chicken broth. This way, you'll have a delicious meal in less than an hour.
- If you want lovely fluffy and separated grains, rinse the rice well before cooking it.
- This recipe is versatile. You can add olives or sausages, or any other ingredient you like that will complement the dish.