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Chicken and rice, around the world

Regional versions of this universal comfort dish abound

Addie Broyles
Arroz con pollo is a classic comfort food in many Latin countries, and this version comes from Gina Homolka's "Skinnytaste One & Done." [Contributed by Eva Kolenko]

If you've never cooked chicken in a bed of rice, add one of these recipes to your to-make list.

Chicken and rice is a comfort food anywhere you'll find both chicken and rice, which is most places around the world. That's why you'll find regional variations from Spain to India, from Morocco to Mexico, and each cuisine has its own spin on making the dish, not to mention each cook who makes it.

Even if you haven't mastered the crunchy socarrat found in a paella or the Persian tah dig crust, chicken and rice is still a comfort food worth cooking and tweaking, according to the spices you're craving or the vegetables you have on hand. One of these recipes — the tah dig — doesn't call for chicken, and you could replace the chicken with any number of proteins.

You might not have every single ingredient in some of the recipes, such as the biriyani, which calls for both green and black cardamom pods, but don't let that stop you from trying a new technique or from seeking out one or two new spices for your pantry.

One-Pot North African Chicken and Rice

The first time I ever made chicken and rice in one pot was amazing. The flavor and juices from the chicken seeped down into the rice and gave it an incredible flavor. Everything in the pot was seasoned, and it turned out to be a treat. This chicken and rice is just like that. Both the rice and the chicken are seasoned with flavors most popular in North Africa, and they finish cooking together in the oven. It’s absolutely delicious.

— Evi Aki

For the chicken:

5 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons ground turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoons dried oregano

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

For the rice:

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups basmati rice

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

Grilled lemon slices and fresh parsley, for garnishing

To make the chicken, combine the chicken thighs, lemon juice, turmeric, cumin, coriander, oregano, garlic, salt and black pepper in a large resealable bag. Let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator (preferably overnight for more flavor).

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. To make the rice, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Place the chicken in the skillet skin-side down and cook until it is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Then flip the chicken over and cook the other side until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the chicken and set it aside. Remove any black or burned bits from the skillet, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the onion, oregano, turmeric and cumin. Saute until the onion becomes translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and rice and saute for 1 minute, just until the rice begins to turn golden. Add the chicken stock, water and salt and bring the mixture to a simmer. Place the cooked chicken thighs directly on top of the rice. Cover the skillet with a lid and transfer it to the oven.

Bake the chicken and rice in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the skillet’s lid and bake for 15 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the skillet from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with the grilled lemon slices and fresh parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

— From "Flavors of Africa: Discover Authentic Family Recipes From All Over the Continent" by Evi Aki (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)

Coconut Oil Crispy Rice

This Persian rice is not any old rice. Unlike many rice recipes, the cooking process here is mindful and delicate. The crispy layer is the ultimate treat in this recipe. Known as tah dig, it forms during the steaming of the basmati rice on the bottom of the pot. A good tah dig is judged by its even, golden-brown crust as well as its easy release from the bottom of the pot. You essentially scoop out the steamed rice and then turn the pot upside down in hopes that the tah dig pops out fully intact onto a plate. Saffron threads, the most luxurious spice on earth, add a touch of color and earthiness to the finished rice.

— Katzie Guy-Hamilton

3 cups uncooked basmati rice

3 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil

1 Persian lime (or 1/2 regular lime)

1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt

Pinch of saffron threads

Rinse the rice with fresh running water three times, or until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a bowl, cover with cold water, and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Add the rinsed rice to the boiling water and cook for 6 minutes, or until the grains begin to dance at the top of the pot. Immediately drain the rice and rinse with cold water, then set aside.

Melt the coconut oil in the bottom of a large, lidded pot. Place a 2-inch layer of rice carefully on the bottom of the pot, packing it down slightly and sprinkling with salt. Spoon the remaining rice into the center of the pot, creating a pile of rice. Tuck the Persian lime inside the rice pile.

Wrap the lid of the pot with a tea towel and place on the pot. Reduce the heat to low and steam the rice for about 40 minutes, until the rice is steamed and fluffy and the bottom of the pot has crisped and is golden brown. Until you get used to this process, you can peek at the edge with a spoon to see how it is doing after 30 or 35 minutes.

Carefully scoop the steamed rice out onto a plate, leaving the bottom packed-down rice intact. Then, using a plate the diameter of the pot, place the plate on top of the pot and flip the pot over, releasing the tah dig from the bottom of the pot.

Grind the saffron thread with a mortar and pestle and add a tablespoon of water to make a saffron slurry. Spoon this over the finished rice. Serve the tah dig next to the rice along with tzatziki or plain labne. Serves 10.

— From "Clean Enough: Get Back to Basics and Leave Room for Dessert" by Katzie Guy-Hamilton (The Experiment, $24.95)

Arroz con Pollo

Growing up with a Latin mom, I had rice with just about every meal. So it's no surprise that one of my favorite dishes from childhood was arroz con pollo. In fact, I still request it when I have dinner at my mom's. It's pure comfort food to me. To make it a bit healthier, I use brown rice in place of white, and I cook it in my Instant Pot with fabulous results. Serve this dish with some sliced tomatoes and cucumbers for a quick and simple side salad.

— Gina Homolka

4 large bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed and fat trimmed

1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon sazón seasoning, homemade or store-bought (I like Badia Sazón Tropical)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 teaspoons olive oil

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more (optional) for garnish

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/4 cups uncooked long-grain brown rice

3/4 cup frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, corn and green beans)

1/4 cup canned tomato sauce

1/4 cup pitted green Spanish olives plus 1/2 tablespoon brine

1 teaspoon chicken bouillon

Cayenne pepper sauce, such as Cholula, for serving (optional)

Season the chicken with the vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of the sazón, the garlic powder and the salt.

Press the saute button on an electric pressure cooker. When hot, add 2 teaspoons of the oil and cook the chicken until browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

To the pressure cooker (still on saute), add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, the onion, bell pepper, scallions, cilantro and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the rice, 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, the frozen mixed vegetables, tomato sauce, olives, olive brine, remaining 1/2 teaspoon sazón and the bouillon. Stir well. Return the chicken to the pot.

Seal and cook on high pressure for 27 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the chicken and rice are cooked. Quick or natural release, then open when the pressure subsides.

To serve, place 1 cup rice on each plate, top with 1 chicken thigh, and garnish with the cilantro, if desired. If you like spice, top with the hot sauce. Serves 4.

— From "Skinnytaste One and Done: 140 No-Fuss Dinners for Your Instant Pot, Slow Cooker, Air Fryer, Sheet Pan, Skillet, Dutch Oven and More" by Gina Homolka (Clarkson Potter, $30)

One-Pan Paella

The first time I made this dish, my teenage sons claimed it was the best thing I had put on their plates all year. Seeing as I feed a family of five three meals a day and had spent months testing more than a hundred recipes for this book, I beamed at the high praise. Although I suggest making this in a 12-inch (30 cm) skillet, it will work in a 10-inch (25 cm) skillet as long as it’s deep. For a larger group, feel free to double the recipe and cook it in a 14-inch (35 cm) pan; this recipe is forgiving and will work without issue, but to ensure that the rice cooks evenly I suggest rotating the pan on the burner frequently. Chorizo can be tricky to find, even in fine supermarkets, so here’s an inspired substitution if needed: replace the paprika with smoked paprika and the chorizo with kielbasa. You may be tempted to, but don’t stir the paella; you’ll be rewarded with the delicious crispy rice on the bottom of the pan known as the socarrat. Feel free to add 8 shrimp (peeled, with tails intact) and 8 mussels to the pan with the peas for a more traditional take on paella.

— Jan Scott

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 pound cooked chorizo, ends trimmed, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds

1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)

1 sweet bell pepper (any color), seeded and chopped

1 1/2 cups short-grain rice (like bomba or arborio)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 Roma tomatoes, grated (about 1 cup)

2 1/2 cups whole chicken broth

1 cup frozen peas

8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, 1 tablespoon oil, oregano, paprika, garlic powder and salt. Mix well.

Heat a 12-inch cast iron, stainless steel, or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Tip in the chorizo, onion and pepper and cook until the vegetables are soft and the sausage begins to crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and turmeric, coating the rice evenly with the oil.

Pour the tomatoes and broth into the skillet and stir to combine. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the rice is tender but firm, 15 to 20 minutes.

Scatter in the peas and shrimp. Cover, turn off the heat, and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque and pink. Season with more salt, if needed. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve immediately.

— From "Oven to Table: Over 100 One-Pot and One-Pan Recipes for Your Sheet Pan, Skillet, Dutch Oven and More" by Jan Scott (Penguin Canada, $24.95)

Chicken Dum Biriyani

A perfectly made bowl of chicken dum biriyani is India’s answer to Italy’s spaghetti, France’s beef bourguignon and Spain’s paella. A one-pot meal of what is essentially just rice and chicken is taken to another level with various spices and a special cooking style called dum, which essentially means sealing the fragrance and the essence of the dish by making sure it’s slow cooked in a sealed vessel. As you take a good spoonful of this dish, the fragrance from the ghee, the richness of the spices coating the chicken, the tenderness of the meat, the gloriousness of it all will hit you — and before you know it, you will have finished five quick spoonfuls as though in a daze. Finally, you will slow down and start to savor the intricate flavors of the dish, wonder at how these mere ingredients can be turned into something that’s an art in itself, marvel at how the marriage of basmati rice and chicken can seem like it’s made in heaven. And then you will forget everything else and simply sink in. Any cut of chicken with work in this dish, but this recipe works best with chicken that has been marinated overnight.

— Swayampurna Mishra

For the chicken:

1 pound bone-in, skinless chicken pieces

Vegetable oil (as needed)

3 medium onions, sliced

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, minced

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 to 2 green chiles, finely chopped, divided

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

6 black peppercorns

2 dried red chiles

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder (or as needed)

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon garam masala

3 tablespoons biriyani masala (I recommend Hakim brand)

Juice of 1 small lemon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons ghee

For the rice:

Water (as needed)

4 cloves

4 green cardamom pods

1 black cardamom pod

1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick

1 dried bay leaf

4 black peppercorns

2 star anise

1 teaspoon ghee or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons salt

2 cups good-quality basmati rice

For layering:

Vegetable oil (as needed)

4 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons lukewarm milk

Pinch of saffron threads

Finely chopped fresh cilantro and mint leaves (as needed)

1 teaspoon melted ghee, divided

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon rose water (optional)

To make the chicken, rinse the chicken pieces under running water. Pat them dry with paper towels. Set the chicken aside.

Heat some oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low and cook until they are browned, about 15 minutes. In a food processor, combine the browned onions, ginger, garlic, green chiles, cumin seeds, peppercorns and red chiles. Add a little water if needed to blend it till smooth. 

Pour this masala into a large bowl. Add the yogurt, Kashmiri red chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, biriyani masala, lemon juice, salt, cilantro and mint. Mix everything well. Add the chicken to the marinade and stir to thoroughly coat the chicken. Cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator overnight, at least 8 to 10 hours. When you are ready to make the biriyani, take the chicken out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

To make the rice, in a large pot, bring plenty of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Place the cloves, green cardamom, black cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns and star anise on a piece of soft, clean muslin cloth and make a bundle of it. Now add this spice bundle to the water. Add the ghee and salt and let the water come to a full boil. Add the rice and let it cook just until it is half done, 7 to 8 minutes. (Be careful not to overcook the rice — it should be grainy.) Drain the rice and let it cool a bit while the chicken is cooking.

To cook the chicken, melt the 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid over high heat. Add the marinated chicken and marinade liquid. Let it cook for 5 minutes undisturbed. Turn the chicken pieces over, reduce the heat to low and cook the chicken, covered, for 15 minutes. Add a splash of water if you feel it’s sticking to the bottom of the Dutch oven.

In the meantime, to prepare the layering components, heat 2 inches of oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil is smoking, add the onions to it and fry until they are crisp and brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and transfer them to paper towels to drain. Set the fried onions aside. Place the milk in a small bowl or measuring cup. Add the saffron. Set the saffron milk aside.

In the Dutch oven, make sure the chicken is spread out in one layer. The chicken should be moist, and there should be a bit of gravy clinging to the bottom of the Dutch oven. Put the half of the rice on top of the chicken. Spread the rice out well so that it covers all of the chicken. Add half of the fried onions, some cilantro and mint, half of the saffron milk, half of the ghee and the garam masala on the rice.

Now add the rest of the rice in an even layer and add the remaining half of the fried onions, some cilantro and mint and the remaining half of the saffron milk to the rice layer. Sprinkle the rose water over this layer and add the remaining half of the ghee in a drizzle along the edges and in the center of the rice.

After layering the rice and meat, make sure at least a quarter of the Dutch oven is free for the steam to collect and aid in cooking. To create a seal on top of the pot, place a piece of aluminum foil across the Dutch oven, then close the lid tightly over the foil, making sure no steam can escape. Turn on the heat to low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.

Turn off the heat, but keep the Dutch oven sealed for at least 30 minutes, or until you are ready to serve. Before serving, dig into the rice, making sure to get all the layers, and serve with a simple mixed raita. Serves 4.

— From "My Indian Kitchen: 75+ Authentic, Easy and Nourishing Recipes for Your Family" by Swayampurna Mishra (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)

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