The best thing you can possibly do when visiting Los Angeles is go to Versailles. It’s a legendary cuban restaurant in Culver City (and other locations). Their garlic chicken over rice with black beans is just about the best thing on this earth. Whenever I’m home visiting family, I make sure all family dinners are at Versailles because it’s just so god damn good.
It’s hard to describe the flavor. Intensely garlicky for sure, citrusy and definitely salty. It’s quite tangy but also sweet somehow. I’ve been searching for a recipe for years. It’s called a cuban mojo sauce, but Versailles does it the best. Versailles actually sells their own marinade, as does Goya…but it’s not the same. Buying a “mojo grill marinade” won’t work…I’ve tried. It’s not just about the marinade. It’s about the pre-soaking and the crispy chicken skin. And the garlic – a lot of it.
While browsing some food sites a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a recipe that claimed to have unlocked the Versailles secret. I will admit, it certainly looked right. So I cleared my schedule and high-tailed it to the Mexican grocery store. I don’t know of any Cuban grocery stores in New York, but please comment if you do!
And she was right…she got pretty close. My only complaint is the slight artificial taste you get from the bitter orange juice. But short of getting on a plane…this wil have to do.
The secret is bitter orange juice. Truth be told, I’ve never seen a bitter orange but I do recall seeing bitter orange juice in the Goya section at some large grocery stores. Make sure you are in a Mexican grocery store…your Food Town won’t have this. And check the produce area, I found bitter orange juice near the salad dressings at NSA Supermarket on 9th Avenue and 27th St.
Versailles Garlic Chicken over Rice
Adapted from The Kitchn Blog
You will need:
2 gallon-sized ziplock bags
5 lbs. chicken (4 breasts, 4 thighs, 4 wings)
5 lemons (3 sliced in half and 2 juiced)
1 cup kosher salt
1 ½ cups sour orange juice
20 cloves of garlic
¼ cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
¼ teaspoon cumin powder
1 large white onion (not yellow), sliced into rings
1 cup white rice
salt and pepper
1. Brine the chicken: Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a small pot on the stove. Turn off the flame, add 1 cup of salt and let sit for 5 minutes. In a large bowl that will fit in your refrigerator, cover the chicken with 10 cups of cold water and add the salt water mixture. Squeeze in the juice from three lemons and throw the rinds in. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
2. In a blender, combine the sour orange juice, garlic cloves, cumin, juice of 2 lemons and about ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Blend on high for 30 seconds – or until the garlic is broken up. A food processor will also work.
3. Divide the chicken into two large ziplock bags, divide the orange garlic mixture as well. Seal the bags, shake a bit and marinate at room temperature for two hours.
4. Remove the chicken to a plate, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Reserve the marinade for cooking.
5. Make the rice by brining 1 cup rice, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, fluff with a fork and set aside.
6. Preheat your oven to 350. Heat ½ of the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 3 pieces of chicken, skin side down until very crispy. About 5 minutes each side and repeat until all chicken is browned, adding more oil as needed. *If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you can use a regular non-stick pan and just transfer all the chicken and juices into a large glass baking dish for the oven.
7. Add the marinade to the hot pan and add as much chicken as will fit and cover with aluminum foil. Braise in the oven for about 45 minutes. Use a second pan if you have to – or simply roast the extra chicken on a baking sheet.
8. Remove the chicken from the pan and set to rest. Bring the sauce to boil on the stove and reduce by a quarter (about 8 minutes) and scrape all the bits from the roasting pan into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Add the onion rings at the last moment when you are ready to serve (you want them to be almost raw). Serve with the rice, fried plantains and black beans.
You will need:
4 very ripe plantains
1 cup of vegetable oil
1. Slice the plantains into 1/2 inch thick chips on a bit of an angle. And sprinkle with salt.
2. In a cast iron pan or small skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot (about 4 minutes) add a layer of plantains flat in the pan and not too close together. Cook for 2 minutes on each side until deep golden brown. Work in batches and remove cooked plantains to a plate lined with several layers of paper towels.
3. While the second batch of plantains is frying, place a paper towel over them and use a plate or cutting board to smash the plantains down. Repeat with the second batch.
4. Return the smashed plantains to the oil and fry once more, about two minutes on each side. Drain on fresh paper towels and serve with a sprinkle of salt.
Garlic Black Beans
Makes 6 servings + lots of leftovers
1 package black beans (1 lb.)
1 bay leaf
1 onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon olive or canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
1. Soak the beans over night in a large bowl overnight (or at least 8 hours). Rinse the beans several times and drain.
2. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven or tall pot with a lid. Add the onions and garlic and stir for about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf and beans along with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour. After 30 minutes, add the cayenne, sugar and vinegar and continue cooking.
3. Taste beans for doneness and add salt and pepper as needed. Continue cooking if they seem hard. Can take up to an hour and 30 minutes depending on how hot your pan is and other unexplainable factors.