Cast Iron

Chicken Sofrito with Orzo

January 13, 2014
Author Notes

This casserole with savory Spanish flavors can be modified to include pretty much any vegetables you have on hand. —zora

Test Kitchen Notes

This sofrito came together with very little effort and a big reward. It’s rustic but deep and flavorful. The sauce is rich and buttery from the chicken fat, with just the right touch of acid from the tomatoes and sweetness from the red pepper and onions. You’ll want to soak up every drop! The fennel adds a bit of crunch to the mostly soft textures and the smoked paprika brings depth to the stew. The chicken came out tender and juicy, but it wasn’t overwhelmed by the other ingredients. In addition to being satisfying, the finished dish is colorful and bright. —Patricia Price

  • Serves 4 to 6, or 2 to 3 with leftovers
  • 6 to 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (depends on the size of the thighs and of your casserole)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium white or brown onion, chopped
  • 2 to 3 inches of the white part of a leek, chopped (optional)
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, chopped or crushed
  • 1 small bulb fennel, or small celery root, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons pimentón dulce (Spanish sweet smoked paprika)
  • one 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 medium roasted red bell pepper, peeled and chopped (canned is okay)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • Aromatic herb bundle: 4 stalks each of fresh thyme and parsley, tied with twine
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo (about 2/3 of a 1-pound box)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 to 3 of the following vegetables: 1/4 pound of chopped kale, haricots verts, a couple of handfuls of chopped spinach leaves, 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 2 teaspoons salt (if using salted chicken stock, you may need less)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
In This Recipe
  1. In a 6 to 8 quart enameled cast iron casserole, brown the chicken thighs well in olive oil. Remove the chicken to a platter. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of rendered fat. Sauté the onion and leek with a sprinkle of salt until translucent. Add the chopped garlic, cumin, and pimentón, stirring to bloom the spices in the oil, then add the fennel or celery root. Cook briefly.
  2. Add chopped tomatoes and roasted pepper, and turn the heat down under the pot. Add the saffron, bay leaves, and aromatic herb bundle. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. While the sofrito is simmering, preheat the oven to 375° F. When much of the liquid has reduced, add the wine and turn up the heat to reduce further. Stir in the orzo, pour in the broth, then add the green vegetables, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Nestle the chicken thighs around the top of the pot. When the broth begins to bubble, cover the casserole and put it into the oven.
  3. Bake the casserole for 20 to 25 minutes, until chicken thighs are firm to the touch and orzo is tender. Remove herb bundle before serving. Serve family style, garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

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