Is there anything more comforting than chicken and rice? I’ve got to think not. I always turn to this saffron chicken and rice dish when I want something relatively simple, hearty and delicious.
It’s inspired by Spanish paella, which I ate as often as I could while I was studying abroad in Spain in college. My host dad would make the classic chicken-and-rice dish, laden with mussels, calamari and shrimp. A little secret of his? He would add yellow food coloring to the dish so he could cut back on the saffron, which is pricey. Food coloring or no, his paella was always amazing.
My host dad would only ever make paella on Sundays, because it was such an involved process. As my saffron chicken and rice is basically a poor girl’s paella, (sans seafood) it’s significantly quicker and easier, and perfect for a weeknight meal. Also, it just requires one pan, which is the best type of recipe. (Now that I don’t have a dishwasher, I wish I could exclusively cook one-pot meals!)
I adore bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. And they crisp up beautifully in a cast iron pan, their skins forming a golden-brown, crackly crust that provides a nice foil to the brothy rice. The bell pepper and peas add a pop of color and allow you to say you ate your vegetables. Some of them, at least.
The saffron also adds color and a lovely flavor. Don’t have saffron? Don’t try to substitute it with something similar – there’s nothing that comes close in terms of taste. Instead, take the recipe a different direction and add a tablespoon of your favorite herb, such as basil, thyme or rosemary.
The key to quick, well-cooked chicken is to not crowd your pan. Be sure to use a large skillet and use no more than six thighs. Otherwise, your chicken will take forever to cook and it’ll be 10 p.m. and you’ll still be cooking! I have been there, let me tell you. Use an instant-read thermometer to be sure your chicken thighs are done. When that meter hits 165ºF, you’re good.
Saffron Chicken and Rice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
- Salt and pepper
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 cup arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 ½ cups chicken broth
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- ½ cup frozen peas
- Heat oil in 12-inch cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper skin side of chicken thighs and place in pan, skin-side down. Salt and pepper other side of thighs and cook until browned, about 6-7 minutes on each side. Set aside on paper towel-lined plate.
- Reduce heat to medium and add onions to the oil and juice from the chicken, cooking for 3 minutes. (If you have more than ⅓ cup of liquid in your pan, pour a little off or sop some up with a paper towel. You want about ¼ cup liquid at this point.) Add red bell peppers and garlic and cook for one more minute. Pour in rice and stir to coat in chicken juices and oil. Add white wine and saffron and enjoy the sizzles.
- Return chicken thighs to pan. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high, then reduce to medium-low for a bare simmer and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes. Taste broth and add more salt or pepper to your liking.
- At this point, the mixture should still be slightly brothy. Add peas evenly around pan and stir to incorporate. Cook 5-10 minutes more, until rice and peas are cooked and the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165ºF.
For a fail-safe pairing option, drink the wine you used for the recipe. If you want to get more adventurous, you could try a Spanish sherry (just like wines, there are all different sorts, from sweet and rich to light and crisp) or an Aperol spritz, quite possibly the best cocktail ever made, despite what the NYT might say. (Insert eye-roll.)