Chicken and Rice: Middle Eastern Style

Growing up I had no idea how lucky I was to have such a wide variety of friends. When I was really little, living in Portland, my best friend’s dad was a hunter and her mom used to cook up venison and feed it to us. I’m pretty sure she thought I was malnourished because she would force feed me until I felt like I was going to explode. I can’t say I blame her. I looked like a Samalian baby until about the age of…..well….now.

Then in about 5th grade, when we moved to Yakima, I made another friend who was Filipina. Her mom made the most amazing meals. I don’t remember the name of anything, except lumpias. Lumpias are like eggrolls but about 900% better. She also made the best sticky rice I have ever had. I’m a total sucker for sticky rice. I’m pretty sure that’s how Jon won me over. He owned a rice cooker.

Awww, I love this picture…

In junior high and high school my best friend was Mexican. Her mom would cook us carne asada, Mexican rice and beans, hominy soup…I could go on and on. Their house always smelled delicious and they treated me like a daughter. We would spend our weekends pigging out on homemade Mexican food, teasing her poor dog, and telling her little brother he was adopted (he was about a foot taller than everyone else in the family and had red hair….it made no sense).

My senior year of high school, I became good friends with Marcel. Her family was middle eastern and hilarious. One minute things would be totally normal, quiet, peaceful…and the next they would all be screaming at each other in a foreign language and I would be sitting there utterly confused with what the hell was happening. Her mom, who went by Mary, made particularly good food. There were tons of things she made that were really delicious, but the one thing that stuck out in my mind was this chicken and rice dish. It had this dark brown rice, chicken on the bone, and you baked it and served it with plain yogurt. It sounds a little bizarre but trust me, it’s unreal how good it is.

When I was about 20, Marcel’s family was going to move to California. Marcel was not a cook and she told me I should learn how to make this rice dish. I asked Mary to teach me and she gladly lead me into the kitchen. She literally had no measurements for anything, she just eyeballed everything. She didn’t even know the name of half of the ingredients or where to get them. I would ask, “Okay Mary, what kind of rice is that?” and she would reply, “Oh…you know…you just get it at Costco in one of those big bags or buckets….you know?” No Mary, I don’t know. There are like 10 different kinds of rice you could be talking about. I would also ask how much of something to add to the dish and she would just pour it in and say, “You know….about that much.” I learned next to nothing. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to watch her, and fun to eat it after we made it, but it was too hard for me to learn from the master. She was too good at her craft and I was just some lowly white girl trying to learn to make something she had been making for years!

That is, I WAS some lowly white girl until I found a recipe online with exact measurements and how long to cook it for. Something sweet Mary did not know how to do. Thanks anyways Mary, but I am better with steps…and measurements…and names of ingredients. Want to learn how to make this chicken and rice dish, otherwise known as palau?

Here’s what you’ll need:

3 cups of BASMATI rice (now we know what kind of rice it is)
2 large onions
1/2 cup vegetable oil
5 chicken thighs
5 chicken drumsticks
1 cup chicken brother
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp Kitchen Bouquet (you can get this at most grocery stores in the spice isle…this is one of the things that Mary didn’t know where to get it)

Preheat oven to 500* and put a large pot of water on to boil.
First, you’ll need to take the skin off of the chicken pieces. If you use a paper towel and just pull it off, it comes off pretty easily. Set chicken aside.

Finely chop your onions. Put a dutch oven or a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add your vegetable oil and when it gets hot and starts to “shimmer” add your chopped onions. When onions start turning a light brown color add your chicken pieces.

Lower the heat to medium and stir once every couple of minutes. It will be a little awkward to stir since there are large pieces of chicken in there, but just do your best and try to brown the sides of your chicken as evenly as you can. The onions will start caramelizing a bit more and turning into a type of sauce. Be sure to not let the onions burn. Once the onions and oil are thick like a sauce and caramelized, and your chicken has a little bit of color (about 10 minutes after adding the chicken to the pan) add 1/4 of the chicken broth. Stir and let the sauce thicken again.

Add the rest of your broth 1/4 cup at a time, letting the sauce thicken after each addition and stirring every minute or so. After the full cup of broth is incorporated, and the sauce has thickened, place a lid over the top and turn heat to low.

Let simmer for 10 minutes.

Place your rice in a fine seive or colander. Rinse with cold water. Place rice in boiling water and cook for about 4 minutes, or until mostly cooked. When you taste the rice, it should still have a little crunch to it. Strain rice and set aside.

After the sauce and chicken is done simmering, remove chicken pieces to a plate. Turn heat back up to medium-high and bring sauce to a lively simmer. Add cumin, cardamom, black pepper and Kitchen Bouquet.

(this is what Kitchen Bouquet looks like, if you were curious)
Stir sauce and let it thicken for about a minute or two.

Once sauce is thick remove from heat and pour rice into the sauce. Stir and coat the rice with the sauce.

Nestle chicken pieces atop the rice. Cover and place in the oven. Cook at 500* for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 250* and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

To serve, spoon rice onto a plate or bowl and shred some chicken and place it on top of the rice. Serve along with a dollop of yogurt.


1 Comment

Filed under Recipes

One response to “Chicken and Rice: Middle Eastern Style

  1. Megan J

    I love poking in and seeing what you’re cooking. This one looks awesome:) Also, thanks for the shout out haha I am still Mexican and Phil is still a foot taller than everyone else. During Christmas when the mail man came by, Phil told us it was his Dad dropping off his present HAHAHAHA

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