Somewhere in the world, a chicken is simmering. Nearby is a bag of rice. The mixture of the two is comfort food in every climate.
The idea of rice and chicken is this: Plain rice can accompany a meal, but add chicken into the mix and it becomes a meal in itself. And it’s a luxurious, rich-tasting meal at that, however homey and rustic it may be.
The combination has international appeal. Arroz con pollo is on the menu throughout Latin America and across Spain, made differently in every country but always satisfying. In the United States, especially in the South, fans of delicately seasoned soupy chicken with rice are legion.
In Vietnam, there are lots of little restaurants that serve com ga – chicken rice. In small, efficient but exceedingly low-tech kitchens, family-run operations usually offer just chicken rice at a very affordable price. Everyone loves it. The rice has the intense flavor of fresh chicken broth enhanced with a judicious touch of chicken fat. Topped with cleaver-shredded grilled chicken and herbs, it really hits the mark, served with a little bowl of spicy dipping sauce.
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Similar dishes are found throughout Asia and the Middle East; some are a bit more complex, as with spicy Indian chicken biriyanis or the crisp-bottomed and layered Persian chicken pulaos.
When I set about making an ad-lib version of chicken rice, I had in mind the biriyani model, in which a simple and savory chicken stew is mixed with basmati rice and baked. The ingredients I had on hand in the larder, though, were decidedly more European in nature. I had those meaty king trumpet mushrooms, a variety of oyster mushroom, my current favorite cultivated type. White wine, thyme, garlic and parsley – this was leaning in a fairly Gallic direction. I decided to forgo hot pepper and spices, but not my good basmati rice.
My solution was to tell my dinner guests it was an old-fashioned French rice casserole. I served it with a great pile of wilted mustard greens. Other fine options would be buttered frozen peas or lima beans, or a bright and fresh green salad.
Using good homemade chicken broth as the rice-cooking liquid makes it more nutritious and certainly more flavorful. Perhaps, I might venture, even more comforting.
And to Drink …
When I look at this delicious recipe I have to take a deep breath: It will go with so many different good wines. Do you want a white? How about a good white Burgundy? Or maybe a chenin blanc from Vouvray, Saumur or Savennières? An old-style oaked white Rioja would be great, as would a California chardonnay with a decade or more of age, like a Stony Hill, Mount Eden or Ridge. You could have all sorts of good, older reds, too, like a Barolo, Burgundy, Loire cabernet franc or gran reserva Rioja. Maybe a less extravagant wine, like a cru Beaujolais? Older Champagne, which can have mushroomlike flavors, would be great, as would younger sparkling Vouvray. And, as a committed sherry hound, I will suggest a good fino.
– ERIC ASIMOV
Baked Rice With Chicken and Mushrooms
Yield: 8 servings
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced (about 1 1 / 2cups)
1 large sprig thyme, plus 1 teaspoon freshly chopped leaves
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine
2 cups basmati rice, soaked for 20 minutes, rinsed and drained
8 ounces king trumpet mushrooms, or a mixture of mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 cups hot chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup frozen peas, cooked for 2 minutes in salted water (optional)
2 small garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
1. Put chicken pieces on a baking sheet and season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Pour olive oil into a 4-quart enamelware Dutch oven or similar heavy pot and set over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes, then season with salt. Add chicken, thyme sprig and bay leaf, and continue to cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.
3. Add wine and simmer briskly until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
4. Add rice and a large handful of mushrooms and stir to combine. (Reserve most of the mushrooms for garnish.) Add broth and bring to a simmer. Check broth for seasoning and adjust.
5. Cover pot and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. Transfer pot to oven and bake for 20 minutes. Finally, remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes off heat.
6. While rice is baking, sauté remaining mushrooms: Melt butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, rapidly stirring, until they have softened and browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add peas, if using, and heat through. Turn off heat, then add reserved chopped thyme, the garlic and the parsley. Toss to coat well.
7. Fluff rice, then top with sautéed mushrooms and serve.