Off-Script With Sohla

Chicken & Rice, However the Heck You Want, a la Sohla El-Waylly

Welcome to Off-Script With Sohla. You’ll get a crash course on an endlessly riffable dish—and learn how to put your own spin on it.

October 12, 2020

Every month, in Off-Script With Sohla, pro chef and flavor whisperer Sohla El-Waylly will introduce you to a must-know cooking technique—and then teach you how to detour it toward new adventures.

Chicken and rice is the easiest way to get me all fuzzy and nostalgic. Steamed jasmine rice with saucy chicken korma was my amu’s go-to weeknight dinner. When I was sick she’d simmer chicken, rice, and turmeric until it melted into a silky porridge. And for blow-out celebrations, she busted out her biggest pot to layer basmati with yogurt-marinated chicken for saffron-stained chicken biryani.

Nothing feels more wholesome or welcoming than chicken and rice, which is probably why everyone’s mom in nearly every corner of the earth has their own take—from Hainanese chicken rice, to Spanish and Latin American arroz con pollo, to Japanese oyakodon, to West African jollof rice with chicken.

This one-skillet chicken and rice is so versatile, it can take you wherever you want to go. Once you learn the basic steps and techniques, you can play with the spices, aromatics, and mix-ins. Take inspiration from your favorite chicken and rice recipes, or invent something totally new.

One-Skillet Paprika Chicken Thighs & Pepper Rice, all ready for an olive oil drizzle and lemon squeeze. Photo by TY MECHAM. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE.

Think of these two recipes as a template—a place to learn the chicken and rice ground rules before you venture off on your own:

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I could have just lived off the rice. Can't wait to make her mother's original version. This dish is now in my permanent go to file...definitely to be made again and again. And the variation options are endless!”
— KareninOttawa

One-Skillet Paprika Chicken Thighs & Pepper Rice is inspired by Spanish paella, with smoked paprika and an aromatic sofrito (a flavorful base of bell pepper, onion, garlic, and tomatoes, and the traditional starting point for many Spanish dishes). One-Skillet Garam Masala Chicken Thighs & Saffron Rice has everything that reminds me of my amu’s big-party biryani crammed into one skillet—yogurt, prunes, and potatoes, but in a small-enough portion that I can make it without the party.

How to Go Off-Script With Chicken & Rice

First Things First

To start, give the chicken and rice some time to work for you. This means dry-brining the chicken and soaking the rice.

Dry-brining is as simple as seasoning something in advance, and it works wonders for chicken, fish, tough cuts of meat, and even certain vegetables. Evenly coat chicken thighs in a mixture of kosher salt, black pepper, and spices, and let them hang out for as little as the few moments it takes to prep the rest of the dish (at room temperature) or as long as a day in advance (in the fridge). Not only does this simple step season the meat to the bone, but it also dries the exterior, so all the fat renders out and the skin gets super crispy.

Soaking rinsed rice in cool water for 15 minutes to 2 hours helps it cook more evenly—especially important in this method, in which the rice steams uncovered, so those chicken thighs stay crispy. For basmati rice in particular, a quick soak ensures that the grains grow long, tender, and stay intact while cooking.

Let’s Get Cooking

The next step is searing the chicken. Even though the word “sear” makes me (and maybe you) think of ultra high heat, a good sear is more about direct, versus intense, heat. Start the chicken thighs skin-side down in a cool pan. As the skillet heats up, the fat will leisurely melt out of the skin, then become deeply golden and crisp. And yes, you can have a brown chicken thigh that’s still covered in flabby skin, so avoid super high heat and take your time with this step.

One-Skillet Garam Masala Chicken Thighs & Saffron Rice. Team up with even more yogurt, plus crunchy radishes and cucumbers. Photo by TY MECHAM. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: SAMANTHA SENEVIRATNE.

Pick a Flavor, Any Flavor

Now it’s time to make a powerful flavor base. First, blend an assortment of aromatics, which are the vegetables and herbs that provide the dish with a foundation of flavor. This usually includes onion, carrot, garlic, and other fragrant things like ginger, fennel, and tender herbs like parsley or cilantro. By pureeing these aromatics instead of chopping them, you can pack a lot of flavor into the rice, without adding any chunky bits.

Next, cook down this blended mixture until it’s caramelized and concentrated. This adds so much richness, we don’t need any stock. I like to cook down the aromatics until there’s so little moisture left that the fat is forced to separate and pool on the surface. This visual indicator lets me know that the aromatics have switched from steaming in their own juices to sizzling in fat, developing new complex flavors and allowing the spices to bloom to their full potential.

In the Paprika Chicken, our aromatics are: red bell pepper, onion, and garlic. In the Garam Masala Chicken, you’ve got: onion, garlic, and ginger. Play around with these examples—swapping the garlic for ginger, blending in whole bunches of herbs, and adding fresh or dried chilies. This is where the skillet rice gets all its personality.

We’re Almost There!

After adding water and bringing the mixture to a simmer, it’s time to season well with salt and adjust the heat so it’s just right. You want to see lots of little bubbles—not big ones, which means that your heat is too high, the water could simmer off too quickly, and leave you with undercooked rice. But you don’t want to see slow, lazy bubbles either—this means that the heat is too low, leaving the top layer of rice undercooked while the rest gets mushy and soft. It takes a little practice to figure out just what this looks like on your burner and in your pan, but once you nail it, you’ll know it for life.

Listen Up

How do you know when the rice has absorbed the water and the chicken is cooked through? Just listen: The gurgling, crackling sounds of simmering and sizzling will quiet down. When I’m lucky, I end up with a golden brown crust on the bottom of the skillet. And even when I’m not, I’ve still got a full skillet of comfy chicken and rice to crawl into.

Now that you know these steps, feel free to go off-script and create your own unique dish. Or at least confidently use up whatever’s in your pantry, knowing that you’ll end up with something delicious.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MLHE
  • Brandon S
    Brandon S
  • YoeJoe
  • hunter357
  • Douglas Lawson
    Douglas Lawson
Sohla El-Waylly is a Food52 Resident, sharing new riffable recipes every month that'll help you get creative in the kitchen. Watch her cook on YouTube in her new series, Off-Script With Sohla. Before she started developing fun recipes for home cooks, she worked as a chef in N.Y.C. and L.A., briefly owning a restaurant in Brooklyn with her husband and fellow chef, Ham El-Waylly. She lives in the East Village with Ham, their two dogs, and cat. Find out what else she's up to on Instagram @sohlae


MLHE January 23, 2024
An amu is a very, very. very nice person!
Brandon S. January 23, 2024
What the heck is an "amu"? Of course we had to work in the overused word "wholesome".
YoeJoe January 15, 2023
Wow, this looks amazing! Going to have to try this out soon.
hunter357 November 3, 2021

nice video... only correction would be the metallic taste does not come from cast iron... raw or seasoned... metallic taste comes from using aluminum cookware ... the acid in tomato's pulls out/leaches impurities from the aluminum ... this is the metallic taste of aluminum people are commenting on...

on a side note, i believe aluminum may lead to long term health issues... but this is my opinion only...

i stopped using aluminum cookware over thirty years ago... cast iron, stainless, copper are the best to use...
Douglas L. June 8, 2021
THIS is the kind of content you want to see if you want to actually learn something! This woman has skills on her skills and knows the hows and whys to what she's doing. If you want to learn how to cook and cook well, listen to what she's saying and put it to practice. She's teaching techniques, not recipes! Looks good on ya lady! Keep up the excellent work!
Sophia H. February 9, 2021
I have been making my own versions of this for a couple years, now that I am a single mom, it is the best way to get my young eater to try things not normally in his palate range. I add other grain, normally unpalatable (for him vegetables). For us, it is reasonably fast, and low effort, and also makes for great lunches.
Tutu A. January 11, 2021
I usually make lunch for my parents and brother and today I am going to make the paprika chicken and rice,,, except I have no paprika or green beans. I will use all the other ingredients and try to make something delicious. I will probably add in some spinach somewhere on the side and some fried sweet plantain to compliment the rice. Hopefully it turns out delicious.
Wendy L. January 3, 2021
I really love these Off Script cooking lessons! Keep 'em coming please! I made the pizza strata--it was amazing (I may never make actual pizza again). Can't wait to try the chicken & rice.
Cassie M. December 27, 2020
This dish was delicious!! I loved the crunch con con on the bottom.

Another one of my favorite dishes is the Dominican dish morro de guandules. Although many counties do a rice and bean or pea dish. Do you think you could do a recipe like that?
KareninOttawa October 29, 2020
Excellent class! Sohla effortlessly passes on reusable cooking tips and the recipe is perfect. So delicious and very reminiscent of a paella. Even got a "socarrat/tahdig" stye crunchy bottom. I could have just lived off the rice. Can't wait to make her mother's original version. This dish is now in my permanent go to file...definitely to be made again and again. And the variation options are endless!
Lily M. October 29, 2020
One of the most well explained and fun to learn cooking videos I've ever watched! Def a fan of Sohla! She doesn't just explain the steps but teaches why we do the steps, love that!
Robin W. October 25, 2020
Loved watching Sohla! I learned and laughed! Cant wait to try the recipe.
k October 24, 2020
Love this recipe, as I love everything from Sohla!! I'm still a beginner with cooking but my first try at making this went off without much of a hitch— except, my chicken thighs were still somewhat undercooked at the end, and I'm not sure why... It's possible they were a bit too large? Any tips on how to avoid this in the future?
Douglas L. June 8, 2021
You could bake them in the oven for like 10 minutes after you sear them off like she did and before putting them in the skillet. Probably like 375-400 degrees just to make sure they're going to be done but don't forget to add those juices back to the skillet.
M October 22, 2020
Love the theme! Hope in the future there is more of the off-script aspects. I got a great sense of the base recipe, but not so much the various ways to go off-script.
jazznichole October 19, 2020
An open question for anyone who sees this: I used a really big pan to make this (I had to in order to fit all the chicken!), and as a result, I couldn't get it to cook evenly on my stove! I'm thinking cooking it in the oven for the last step would help it cook more evenly -- would that work? What temp should I set my oven to?
frizz October 19, 2020
Off-script ideas: chili, curry, sheet pan dinners, grain + veg + sauce, pot pies.
Katiebee October 18, 2020
I will support Queen Sohla wherever she goes! So happy to see her doing videos again with companies that BETTER BE PAYING HER WHAT SHE’S WORTH!

Notes on this recipe:
1. I doubled it for food prep reasons and had to do one half in a nonstick pan. Still works, no need to fret about the cast iron.
2. I only had sticky Japanese rice on hand, which is still really delicious with this recipe, but required quite a bit more water! It was quite easy to see (and hear) when the water had run out, but the rice still needed more cooking. I just added some more as we went along, and it worked great!
LisaA October 17, 2020
Sohla, I am so so happy to see you here. My husband and I never missed an episode with you in it. We love your humor and recipes. Thank you so much and this will be our evening meal here in Fargo, ND. We had our first snow so I can't think of anything better than this. Keep posting/videoing wonderful recipes for our table. Thank you!!!
Edyta October 16, 2020
Yaaay, Sohla! I'm so excited to learn more from you and that you've found a place that values you as much as we do! I can't wait to try all the endless variations on this dish. Perfect time of year to dig into juicy chicken and rice dishes.
ErinC October 16, 2020
Really excited to see Sohla here! Welcome, and so excited to try your wonderful recipes!! :)