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A Moroccan Entree That Tastes Labor-Intensive—But Couldn’t Be Simpler

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I didn’t think chicken and rice could get any simpler than Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer’s version in Canal House Cooking Volume No. 6: The Grocery Store. This six-ingredient, one-pot wonder has been a long-time favorite recipe of mine, one I never imagined straying from or tinkering with.

So when I read Diana Henry’s Moroccan-spiced version in Simple, one of our Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks contestants this year, I was stunned. Henry describes it as a “useful, no-hassle, chuck-everything-in-together dish.” Didn’t the chicken need to be browned first? The vegetables sautéed? Shouldn’t the pan be covered when it enters the oven?

1, 2, 3... Photos by Alexandra Stafford, Alexandra Stafford, Alexandra Stafford

I followed the recipe nearly to the letter, throwing the rice, chicken, onions, garlic, spices, water—everything—into the skillet at once. I placed the uncovered pan into the oven, and forty minutes later, I opened the door to find crisp-skinned, evenly golden chicken, the rice cooked, their edges just-caramelized. The chicken and rice tasted smoky, hot, and sweet thanks to cumin, harissa, and dates, respectively. Orange zest and juice offered a subtle hint of freshness and coarsely chopped pistachios, showered over top at the end, added a welcome crunch.

Almost ready to go in the oven
Almost ready to go in the oven Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Despite a lengthier ingredient list than the Canal House recipe, the method was simpler. I’ve made the dish several times now, tinkering with the recipe here and there, and I’ve found a hybrid method I like: To take the bite off the raw onions, I sauté them until they are soft. I then stir in the spices followed by the rice, until the kernels glisten. At this point, the chuck-everything-in-together method continues. Even with one extra step, the dish still comes together in a single pan, still bakes for 40 minutes, still emerges beautifully cooked, juicy chicken bobbing in flavorful rice—useful, nearly no-hassle, and simple at its best.

Just add pistachios
Just add pistachios Photo by Alexandra Stafford

A few tips:

Know your harissa. Harissa is a ready-made paste or sauce often used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking made from a mix of chilies and spices as well as olive oil, vinegar, and garlic. It varies in heat level, so it may take some trial and error to find the right amount for you. I like using 4 tablespoons here, which is quite spicy. You can also stir more harissa into the rice at the end to taste.

Vegetables: The original recipe calls for eggplant, which I’ll look forward to using in the summer and fall. In the meantime, I’ve omitted it, but I imagine cubes of squash would work well with the seasonings here.

Water: I use water in place of the stock, and find the rice to be sufficiently flavorful, but if you have stock (meat or vegetable) on hand, use it if you wish. I also use much less water than originally suggested. Getting the ratio right may also take a bit of trial and error, and may depend on the rice you are using. See recipe notes for guidance.

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken and Rice with Dates and Pistachios

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken and Rice with Dates and Pistachios

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 6 to 8
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 pieces bone-in, skin-on thighs and/or drumsticks
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons harissa
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin or whole cumin seeds (see notes above)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (optional, see notes above)
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed until water runs clear, do not use brown rice, see notes above
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 to 12 medjool dates, diced (see notes above)
  • 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) chopped pistachios (I use roasted unsalted)
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Tags: One-Pot Wonders