Growing up in my house we had a running joke, ‘what’s for dinner?… chicken!’ My mother is not someone who enjoys cooking, even though she’s very good at it. It’s ironic because both my sister and I have pursued careers in food. My dad is the one who loves cooking and instilled that appreciation in us. Regardless, it was very important to both our parents that we ate well and always had dinner together as a family.
Inevitably, what was at the centre of this dinner was some form of chicken dish. My mother made a chicken stir fry, a roasted ‘chicken with greens’ (Cornish hens coated in dried oregano and other herbs) and ‘lemon chicken’ (roasted Cornish hens in a lemon and saffron bath with whole black peppercorns and red potatoes). All were served with fluffy basmati rice.
This recipe is inspired by these dishes, as it’s a one-pot combination of seared chicken that’s finished on top of a bed of lemon-saffron rice. The idea is to get a nice colour on the chicken and add some of their rendered tasty bits to the overall dish as they will finish cooking with the rice. As a note, the skin will get a little soft during the cook process, but will still taste delicious. Though the rice ends up being softer than traditional Persian rice, the taste and smell are undeniably as rich and wonderful as my childhood memories.
Prep 10 minutes
Total 35 minutes
- 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 675 g/1½ lb)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 tablespoon hot water
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) low-salt chicken stock (broth) or water
- 200 g (7 oz/1 cup) basmati rice, rinsed
- 2 lemons, juice of 1, 1 cut into wedges, for serving
- 15 g (½ oz/½ cup) fresh parsley or coriander (cilantro) leaves and fine stems, roughly chopped, for sprinkling
1 Season the chicken all over with salt, pepper and cumin. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan (skillet) with a tight-fitting lid over a medium-high heat until very hot – less of a gentle, wavy shimmer and more like aggressive lava when you move the pan. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook without moving until it easily releases from the pan, and skin is crispy and well browned, about 4–7 minutes. (Test the chicken at 4 minutes to check its resistance.) Use tongs to flip and brown the other side, about 3–6 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.
2 Meanwhile, in the bottom of a small metal or sturdy bowl, grind the saffron and mix with hot water until dissolved.
3 Reduce the heat to medium and add the chicken stock to the same pan, scraping up anything stuck to the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add the rice, juice of 1 lemon and saffron water then season with salt and stir to combine. There will probably be a little fat in the pan, which is great. If it’s charred or black though, rinse it out quickly and add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the rice/stock mixture.
4 Cover with the lid, bring the liquid to an active boil and then lower the heat to maintain an active simmer. Remove the lid and lay the chicken, skin-side up, carefully on top. Cover and cook until the rice is tender, most of the liquid is absorbed and the chicken has finished cooking, about 15–20 minutes. Use this time to clean up, set the table and make sure your pepper mill is stocked.
5 Remove the rice from the heat, fluff with a fork, cover and let it sit for a few minutes while you prep the herbs. Divide between plates and finish with loads of pepper. Top with the herbs and serve with lemon wedges.
Pull the chicken off the bone for sandwiches or to serve on top of salad.
For an easy soup, heat low-salt stock with chopped vegetables such as potatoes or carrots, and, when cooked, add leafy greens and shredded chicken to warm up for 5 minutes.
If you find yourself chicken-less, heat up the rice, crack an egg in it and make a quick-fried rice, stirring in baby spinach and serve with sambal.