There is something inherently comforting about a chicken and rice meal. Since the start of the year, some of us have turned to baking and cooking to beat anxiety and calm frayed nerves, or to escape from this strange and precarious year. If your cooking reflects your mood or emotional state like mine does, this one-pot chicken and rice dish is perfect for when you're craving for something filling yet no-frills, easy yet methodical, substantial yet simple to follow and clean up afterwards...in other words, something like a culinary oxymoron, a seeming contradiction that defines this year, doesn't it?
This dish is partly inspired by Sohla El-Waylly's garam masala chicken and rice recipe, after salivating over the Food52's YouTube video. Depending on the spices used, you can turn this dish into something more Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or pan-Asian ... the trick is in the spices. The basic ingredients are chicken thighs and rice; everything else can freestyle, for example: swap water for chicken stock (preferably homemade), substitute milk with Greek-style or plain unsweetened yoghurt, lemon with apple cider vinegar, change rice with other grains like couscous, quinoa, adlai or pearl barley; replace cumin, coriander or curry with other spices such as paprika, turmeric, cayenne powder, or for the more adventurous, use harissa, ras el hanout or gochujang. You can also skip the potatoes if you feel like rice and potatoes are too much carbs for a meal (no judging in this room). Vegetable toppings can be pretty much anything you want, except for leafy greens, and only because the cooking process takes at least an hour and you don't want the leaves to go mushy (remember, this isn't a stew nor a sauce).
Cooking time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
4 pieces chicken thighs, skin on
10 marble potatoes or 8 small potatoes, halved
1 cup brown rice or basmati rice
2 cups water or chicken stock
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cumin, coriander or curry mix
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
2 inch ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 sprig leek, sliced in thin coins
1 sprig chives, cut
1/3 cup whole milk
1 slice of lemon
1 large zucchini, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup vegetable or sunflower oil
Crushed almonds, cashew or pistachio nuts: optional
1. In a small bowl, mix together salt, black pepper and cumin, coriander or curry mix, or other spice mix. Season chicken with the spice mixture on both sides. Dry brine in a refrigerator or at room temperature, covered, for at least 4 hours before cooking.
2. Wash rice twice and let soak until water is clear instead of cloudy. In a small food processor or blender, puree the onion, garlic, ginger, milk and lemon juice until smooth, adding a splash of water if the puree is a bit dry.
3. Heat the vegetable or sunflower oil over medium-high heat in a high-sided skillet, preferably cast iron, or a Dutch oven. Add chicken, skin side-down. Cook until the skin is golden brown and the fat has rendered, about 15 minutes. Flip the chicken and sear the other side for another 12 minutes or until browned on both sides . Transfer the chicken to a plate.
4. Add potatoes to the residual oil. Sear over medium-high until lightly golden brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to a plate with a slotted spoon, leaving as much fat behind as possible.
Residual oil from the chicken thighs will look like this russet-golden colour. Do not scrape this off. Use the oil to build on the rest of the ingredients.
5. Add the onion puree, remaining spices, and at least two pinches of salt to the the skillet or Dutch oven. Cook over medium-high, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently as it cooks, until the puree is thick, caramelised, and the fat has broken out, about 5 to 7 minutes.
6. Drain the rice. Add the rice and potatoes to the skillet, and stir to combine.
Add 2 cups of water or chicken stock. Season with salt until the cooking liquid tastes how you want the final dish to taste, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, covered with lid, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid, at least 30 minutes.
7. Carefully remove lid and place the chicken thighs on top of the rice, pouring over any juices that accumulated while the chicken sat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add zucchinis and cook until everything is tender, another 10 minutes more. Turn off heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. You can serve this with optional accompaniments such as gochujang or harissa spice dips, lemon slices, vegetable sticks such as carrots, zucchini and cucumber, and crushed almond, cashew or pistachio nuts.
Our dog Atlas eyeing the chicken & rice dish. She loves freshly cooked chicken and waits patiently at the kitchen floor when I'm cooking before hopping on her seat at the dining table.
You can also strip the chicken meat from the bones after it cools, to make it easier for you and your family or guests to eat the dish. Keep the bones for homemade stock later on.