African

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

March  9, 2017

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... Photo by Alexandra Stafford
Photo by Alexandra Stafford
Photo by 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 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 Photo by Alexandra Stafford

A few tips:

Shop the Story

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“In the British version the recipe is 225g (8oz) basmati rice and 600ml boiling chicken stock (or, as you say, you can use water). The dish I use is 12 inches in diameter and the size DOES make a difference. This size and quantity always works for me but I am going to check cup quantities against metric measurements just to see if there is any different. By the way you can fiddle about with this in all sorts of ways - it's great with pumpkin and then the addition of coriander, green olives and chopped preserved lemons, or sweet potatoes and crumbled feta. You can use the same dish and ring the changes. The dish IS slightly better if you take the time to saute the onion until golden but I just have to get things in the oven so quickly sometimes, I love the ease. Brown rice takes much longer to cook and is not a good idea with this dish, unless you cook it partially first and that sort of defeats the object. Anyway, thanks for trying the recipe!”
— Diana H.
Comment

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.

What's your favorite one-pot meal? Tell us in the comments below!

23 Comments

Jocelyn G. April 25, 2017
I combined your modifications with the original one (so, I included the eggplant). Didn't get the color on the chicken that you did, which is weird. Otherwise, it was delicious. Definitely think your mods were worth the additional effort.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. April 27, 2017
I'm dying to try this with the eggplant! And other vegetables, too, actually. Strange re color? You did use the harissa, right? And coated the chicken pieces in it? So happy you liked this!
 
Jocelyn G. April 27, 2017
I did coat it in the harissa, so I'm not sure why it didn't get darker. Didn't impede our enjoyment, though. I stuck your recipe right in the cookbook for next time :).
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. April 27, 2017
Oh good, so happy :) :) :)
 
MarcusPM April 2, 2017
Wonderful, simple recipe that is different and full of flavor. Loved the unique flavor of harissa, never had it before. Only change, I added a dozen prunes, loved it. I'm having a small group over mid month and will make this for them.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. April 2, 2017
Prunes sound so good! I ate at my favorite Moroccan restaurant last night, and I had an eggplant and chickpea tagine, which contained prunes — it was SO good.
 
Diana H. March 28, 2017
HI Alexandra, Diana here. Thanks for cooking the dish! Your version does look beautiful. I am interested in your comments about the water. In the British version the recipe is 225g (8oz) basmati rice and 600ml boiling chicken stock (or, as you say, you can use water). The dish I use is 12 inches in diameter and the size DOES make a difference. This size and quantity always works for me but I am going to check cup quantities against metric measurements just to see if there is any different. By the way you can fiddle about with this in all sorts of ways - it's great with pumpkin and then the addition of coriander, green olives and chopped preserved lemons, or sweet potatoes and crumbled feta. You can use the same dish and ring the changes. The dish IS slightly better if you take the time to saute the onion until golden but I just have to get things in the oven so quickly sometimes, I love the ease. Brown rice takes much longer to cook and is not a good idea with this dish, unless you cook it partially first and that sort of defeats the object. Anyway, thanks for trying the recipe!
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 29, 2017
Hi Diana, So great to hear from you! I am LOVING Simple! Making the harissa roasted carrots tonight. Can't wait.<br /><br />Very interesting re rice, water/stock, metric measurements. I just looked at my bag of rice, too, and it gives a range of water (1.25 to 2 cups) for 1 cup of rice depending on how you like your rice cooked. <br /><br />I'm so looking forward to using eggplant here and to trying your many variations, all of which sound so good! I love the method — so easy. And yes, I complicated it a bit with the sautéing of the onion, and it really is a miracle that you can just throw it all in the pan at once, and it will still turn out. Thank you for the beautiful recipe!!
 
BocaCindi March 17, 2017
This recipe is a new favorite. Having leftovers tonight. There's something about Moroccan flavors. ❤
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 19, 2017
So happy to hear this!
 
OaklandMama March 16, 2017
Why do you recommend against using brown basmati rice?
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 19, 2017
A few people had trouble with brown rice — it doesn't cook fully in the time specified here. I think if you want to give it a go, use more water (probably at least 2 cups) and you may have to take the chicken out and continue to cook the rice longer. Let me know if you try it.
 
Cheri F. March 12, 2017
Tried this tonight. Delicious. Keeper recipe.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 12, 2017
Yay!
 
Michael M. March 11, 2017
Looks delicious! May I ask what size of pot you are using here?
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 11, 2017
Sure thing! It's 13 inches in diameter.
 
Michael M. March 11, 2017
Thanks!
 
SallyBR March 10, 2017
Oh, another recipe that has my name written all over it! Love, love LOVE everything about it... Dates and pistachios. Cannot go wrong with that, in sweets or in savory dishes, as you prove with this masterpiece of a recipe!
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 10, 2017
The dates and pistachios are my favorite part! I love the spicy-sweet-crunchy rice.
 
Elizabeth S. March 12, 2017
Dates and pistachios are my dream combo too!
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 12, 2017
:)
 
scruz March 9, 2017
i made this tonight, more as a technique and quantities as i didn't have some of the spices and had earlier marinated some legs/thighs. it came out looking just like the picture and was absolutely delicious. timing was perfect, rice and chicken were yummy, and i put in some nice pitted/sliced fancy olives i had on had to counterbalance the dates. very good recipe...a keeper.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 10, 2017
So wonderful to hear this! I think the technique/quantities could be flavored in so many ways. I'm looking forward to exploring more! Thanks for writing in.