Over the last few years, and particularly during those long months of 2020, we got really into variations on “chicken rice” — chicken and rice cooked together in an aromatic broth that together is the most cozy, comforting thing. The rice is crazy flavorful, drinking up any seasonings and/or vegetables you add to the pan. The chicken is tender and juicy. The dish keeps well even if I’m making it many hours earlier than dinner and the leftovers are phenomenal. It’s relatively inexpensive and I’ve almost always got at least the rice and various pantry items around to make it work. It should run for president.
I’ve made versions with almost every regional or seasonal flavor group I was craving that day, but the one that has proven to have the most staying power is perhaps unsurprisingly the simplest, the one I can make from the one thing I’ll have around even when the fridge is sparse: onions. We brown chicken thighs in a hot pan, then add a lump of butter and a heap of diced onions to the drippings and cook them down until the onions are golden and sweet throughout, darker and deeply caramelized at the edges. We reserve some of these copper, almost jammy onions then build the rest of the dish on this foundation, adding thyme, a splash of wine, chicken broth, plus the rice and chicken thighs and they all finish cooking together.
At the end, we scatter the top with the reserved onions and I … want to take a nap in the pan. No seriously: It’s like a thick comforter on a shivery rainy day, it tastes the way the first hot cup of coffee of the season feels in your hands, and it smells the way you dream your home will when you open the door after an exhausting day, or so seems to be the reaction from my two most opinionated dinner guests.
If you don’t mind me prattling on further — I’m having a moment today! — I feel staunchly that one way we can make cooking feel like more than just a list of endless tasks to complete, even though it’s definitely often that, and more than about pleasing the people who it feeds, elusive as that can be with kids or really any time validation comes from the outside, is to focus on how it feels to make something that tastes, smells, and feels phenomenal and this, for me, is very much that.
Something fun! 🍂 This fall, I am partnering with Williams-Sonoma on all things Thanksgiving. You might spot me in their catalog, in stores, and on their website sharing my recipes and tips. Plus! Stay tuned as we put together some in-person events around the country. We can’t wait.
6 months ago: Bean and Vegetable Burritos
1 year ago: Apple Dumplings
2 years ago: Big Apple Crumb Cake
3 years ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Oat Cookies and Simple Cauliflower Tacos
4 years ago: Chickpea and Kale Shakshuka
5 years ago: Crispy Spinach Pizza
6 years ago: Pizza Beans and Chocolate Tahini Challah Buns
7 years ago: Homemade Merguez with Herby Yogurt and Magic Apple Plum Cobbler
8 years ago: The Perfect Manhattan, Broccoli Cheddar Soup and S’more Cupcakes
9 years ago: Latke Waffles and The Crispy Egg
10 years ago: Frico Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
11 years ago: Crackly Banana Bread and Spaghetti with Broccoli Cream Pesto
12 years ago: Apple Pie Cookies
13 years ago: Single-Crust Apple and Plum Pie
14 years ago: Date Spice Loaf and Lebanese-Style Stuffed Eggplant
15 years ago: Summer’s Last Hurrah Panzanella, Sweet and Sour Glazed Cippoline, Majestic and Moist Honey Cake, and Best Challah (Egg Bread)
16 years ago: Red Velvet Cake, Noodle Kugel, Spaghetti Fideos with Chorizo and Almonds and Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers
17 years ago: Acorn Squash with Chile-Lime Vinaigrette
Chicken Rice with Buttered Onions
- 2 to 2 1/4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (4 to 6)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 pounds (3 large) yellow onions, diced into just shy of 1/2″ pieces
- Leaves stripped from a few sprigs of thyme
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice, any variety
- 1/4 cup white wine (optional)
- 2 cups chicken broth and up to 1/4 cup more if needed (updated)
Heat a large sauté pan, preferably one with a lid, over medium-high heat for one minute. Once the pan is very hot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter, and heat them together for another full minute. Arrange chicken skin side down and cook until deeply brown underneath, about 4 to 5 minutes. [Don’t crowd the chicken; depending on the size of your pan, you might need to do this in two batches.] While it browns, season what is now the top side with additional salt and pepper. Once browned, flip the pieces over and brown on the second side, about another 3 to 4 minutes. Don’t skimp on the color, please. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
Prepare the buttered onions: Leave the pan on medium-high and add 2 tablespoons butter to fat and juices in it. Once melted, add the onions and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook the onions for about 15 minutes total, or until golden throughout and darker brown at the edges, stirring every couple minutes. In the beginning, the onions are watery; once the water has cooked off and the onions begin to pick up color, I reduce the heat to medium for the remaining time. Carefully taste and season with more salt, if desired, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Remove 1/3 cup of onions and set aside until the end.
Finish the chicken and rice: Add thyme and dried rice and cook with the onions for 1 minute. Add the wine, if using, and cook until it disappears, about 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the pan sides, pushing any dried rice and onions back to the bottom. Return the chicken thighs to the pan skin side up, spacing them out. Carefully pour 2 cups (updated amount) of the broth around chicken. Bring the pan to a simmer then reduce to the lowest simmer and cover. Cook rice and chicken together for 25 minutes, or until rice is tender. If rice is not tender at 25 minutes, add remaining 1/4 cup broth and return to the heat for another 5 to 10 minute4s.
To finish and serve: Off heat, rest the dish for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Scatter with reserved buttered onions and scoop it onto plates.
Do ahead: This keeps so well. I reheat it covered in an oven-safe dish at 350 degrees for 15 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is warm. To freeze, well, I’m just going to say it: I’ll pack it ingloriously in a freezer bag and press out the extra air. Defrost in the fridge for a day, if you have time, then rewarm as written above.
- Can I use different bone-in, skin-on chicken parts? Yes. Larger chicken breasts can take longer to cook. Look for ones on the smaller side (8 ounces). If they’re larger, I’ll sometimes split them in half so that they cook through by the time the rice is done.
- Can I use boneless, skinless chicken cutlets? Yes. I’d use thighs since they’re less likely to dry out, and even though it won’t be as pretty, I’d probably skip browning them so they don’t overcook by the time the rice is done.
- What can I use instead of wine? I’d use 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar.
- Can I make chicken rice with buttered onions without butter? Yes, olive oil or another fat will work fine, but of course a key part of the flavor will be different.
- How do I make this even more buttery? When the chicken and rice are done but haven’t rested yet, dot the dish with 1 to 2 additional tablespoons butter, cut into small bits, then replace the lid and let it rest for the 5 to 10 minutes suggested.
- A better than bouillon concentrate hack: The best chicken broth is homemade. My second favorite comes from Better Than Bouillon. The jar instructions are to add 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of hot water before using it but I am lazy and add the concentrate directly to aromatics in the pan — here, along with the thyme and dried rice — and cook it in for a minute to distribute the blob of concentrate. Then I add measured water when the recipe calls for broth.
- Note: The thyme inside the dish is for flavor; the thyme on top is for aesthetics on a very brown dish.