The show triumphantly returned to my buddy Steve’s house as I commandeered his kitchen for my own nefarious purposes: re-creating pollo a la plancha, a popular Cuban dish lovingly prepared in the stunning film Moonlight. Oscar gag aside, this has been one of the most re-created dishes from the show, second only to Pasta Aglio e Olio, and with good reason: it’s impressive, relatively easy, and delicious. It can be a huge confidence-booster to burgeoning home cooks grown accustomed to dry, stringy chicken, mushy rice, and boring beans.
VERDICT: Pounding chicken breasts flat and briefly marinating (with a hint of sugar) produces a flavorful, juicy, and caramelized paillard quickly and easily. Beans cooked with aromatics and bacon are just as good as you think they are. Add lightly seasoned rice and sautéed onions to the equation, and you’ve got a Cuban classic on your hands.
4 chicken breasts, butterflied and pounded thin
4 garlic cloves: 2 chopped, 1 left whole, and 1 minced
Juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 bay leaf
4 ounces fatty bacon, finely diced
2 Spanish onions: 1 minced, 1 sliced into rings
1 green bell pepper, minced
12 ounces dried black beans, soaked overnight, plus ½ cup of the soaking liquid, or 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, undrained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lime, sliced thinly or into wedges, for serving
PLACE THE chicken in a large resealable plastic bag.
IN A small bowl, whisk together the chopped garlic, lime juice, cumin, cayenne, 1 teaspoon of the salt, the black pepper, and the olive oil. Pour the marinade over the chicken, seal the bag, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
RINSE THE rice in a fine-mesh colander until the water runs clear. Drain and transfer to a large saucepan. Add 3½ cups water, the bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the whole garlic clove. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 18 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove and discard the bay leaf. Fluff the rice with a fork and keep warm until ready to serve.
WHILE THE rice is cooking, combine the bacon and ¼ cup water in another large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and the fat has rendered completely, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a bowl, reserving the rendered fat in the saucepan. Add the minced onion and bell pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic clove to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Return the bacon to the pan and add the soaked beans and the reserved soaking liquid (or the entire contents of the can of beans). Simmer, uncovered, until the beans are tender and the liquid has thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste), cover, and keep warm until ready to serve.
ON A large cast-iron griddle, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sliced onion and sear, flipping, until golden and lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
HEAT THE remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on the griddle. Remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off any excess. Sear on the griddle until well browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook, flipping as necessary to prevent burning, until the internal temperature registers 165°F.
FOR EACH serving, pack cooked rice into a ½-pint takeout container and unmold it onto a plate. Arrange 1 chicken breast on one side of the rice and one-quarter of the beans on the other side. Top the chicken with one-quarter each of the seared onions and cilantro. Garnish with lime slices and serve.