You know what's great? Chicken and rice. I mean, practically every culture has some variation on that universal theme. Simple in concept, yet open to endless interpretation, two versatile ingredients that form a blank canvas upon which to paint with a palette of spices and herbs.
Here in Casa Hedonia, paella is regular party fare. It's an all-day affair, prepping and then searing layer upon layer of ingredients, then assembling it all with rice and saffron and baking it off for the pièce de résitance. But because we enjoy it so, dpaul has occasionally taken some short cuts, allowing us to enjoy the complex flavors of southern Spain in a fraction of the time — and in less than platoon-feeding quantity.
For a recent dinner party, we tried a new (to us) variation on chicken and rice, from the stunningly beautiful cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Instead of the floral aroma of saffron, this dish is rich with warming spices and the sweetness of caramelized onions.
But, like paella, it's big party food. So we wanted to scale it back.
There were other things we wanted to tinker with, too. The original recipe calls for whole cardamom pods and cloves in the dish, which add amazing flavor and aroma, but are hard to see against the dun background of the dish. Rice perfumed with the spices is lovely. Chomping into a whole cardamom pod is a palate-blasting mouthful of tannic resin. The original also called for barberries or currants, and neither is particularly handy. I chose prunes, which I love to cook with, but dried cranberries or cherries could work as well, or raisins for that matter.
This will become a staple in our repertory. It feels luxurious even though it's economical. And if you did a little prep ahead, like by caramelizing the onions the night before, it's quick enough to make even after work.
Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
2 whole skin-on bone-in chicken legs, about 1 lb total
5 cardamom pods
About 5 whole cloves
1 cup chicken stock
1 long cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
1/2 cup basmati rice
Season the chicken legs liberally with salt and pepper.
Chop the prune to a fine dice. Place the cardamom pods and cloves in a small tea ball or sachet of cheese cloth. In a small saucepan add the stock, chopped prune and spice packet. Put on medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and keep at a simmer until ready to use.
In an 8" skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and put on medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until golden brown and soft, about 20 minutes. Remove onions to a dish and set aside.
Put pan back on heat and add remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the chicken legs, skin-side down, and sear until skin is brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn the legs over and sear the other side as well. Remove to a dish and set aside.
Drain off any excess fat, leaving only a film of oil in the pan. Return to heat, and add the rice and caramelized onions, and stir to combine and coat with the oil. Remove the spice packet from the stock, and add the stock and plumped prunes to the pan with the rice and onions, carefully so as not to boil over. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the fond from the onions and seared chicken.
Nestle the chicken legs into the rice mixture, and poke the cinnamon pieces into the rice. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to low. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes.
Remove from heat. Remove the lid, throw a clean towel over the top, and replace the lid. Let rest another 10 minutes. Season to taste and garnish with chopped herbs. Serve immediately, optionally with a drizzle of Greek yogurt or sour cream.