One-Skillet Garam Masala Chicken Thighs & Saffron Rice

October 12, 2020
23 Ratings
  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

For nearly every special occasion, my amu would make a big pot of biryani, heady with warm spices, saffron, and aromatic aged basmati rice. This one-skillet rice gives me all those party vibes, but in a mini version that I can whip up for just myself (and I guess a few friends, if I’m willing to share). When I have the time, I like to dry-brine the chicken overnight, so it’s seasoned to the bone and the skin gets super crisp. A puree of onion, ginger, garlic, and yogurt is cooked down in ghee along with garam masala, until concentrated and caramelized. This paste flavors the entire dish, adding so much richness that there’s no need for stock. The yogurt adds a little tang, which balances out the ghee’s richness and cools off the spices’ warmth. I like to serve this rice with even more yogurt, plus raw radish and cucumber alongside. Some toasted, chopped pistachios add contrast and crunch, but feel free to leave them out if you’re not feeling like a nut. If you don’t have saffron, don’t let that stop you from making this dish. Although it adds a delicate floral aroma, the garam masala can more than hold its own.

Want to riff on it? Try this recipe next: One-Skillet Paprika Chicken Thighs & Pepper Rice. And head here to read more about the technique, so you can off-script it however you want.Sohla El-Waylly

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
One-Skillet Garam Masala Chicken Thighs & Saffron Rice
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds (4 to 6) bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 1/4 cups medium- or long-grain rice (like basmati or jasmine)
  • 1 medium (8-ounce) yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 2-inch pieces ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1/3 cup whole-milk Greek-style yogurt, plus more to serve
  • 1 big pinches saffron (optional)
  • 1/4 cup ghee or neutral oil
  • 12 ounces Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups or 8 small potatoes)
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes (or another dried fruit)
  • Radish and cucumbers wedges, to serve (optional)
  • Toasted, chopped pistachios, to serve (optional)
  1. Stir together 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and the black pepper in a small bowl. Pat-dry the chicken with paper towels and evenly season with the spice mixture. You can cook the chicken right away or dry-brine by arranging on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for up to 24 hours.
  2. Place the rice in a medium bowl. Cover with cool tap water, use your hand to gently agitate the grains, and drain. Repeat at least 2 more times until water runs clear enough to see your hand through it. Cover with cool tap water and set aside to soak while you prepare the rest of the dish (this helps the rice cook evenly).
  3. In a small food processor or blender, puree the onion, garlic, ginger, and yogurt until smooth, adding a splash of water if needed. If you’re using the saffron: Crush the threads between your fingers and steep in 1 tablespoon of hot water in a small bowl.
  4. In a medium cast-iron pan or high-sided skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add chicken, skin side-down. Cook until the skin is deeply golden brown, the fat has rendered, and the chicken releases from the pan, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate. (If your chicken thighs are large, brown them well on both sides before transferring to a plate.)
  5. Add potatoes to the residual schmaltzy oil. Sear over medium-high until lightly golden brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to a plate with a slotted spoon, leaving as much fat behind as possible, and season them generously with salt.
  6. Add the onion puree, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala, and a big pinch of salt to the the skillet. Cook over medium-high, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently as it cooks down, until the puree is thick, caramelized, and the fat has broken out, 5 to 7 minutes.
  7. Drain the rice. Add the rice, potatoes, and prunes to the skillet, and stir to combine. Add 2 cups of water, season with salt until the cooking liquid tastes as seasoned as you want your final dish to taste, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Nestle the chicken thighs into the rice, pouring over any juices that accumulated while the chicken sat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, drizzle the saffron tea and threads over the rice, simmer gently until rice has absorbed all the water and everything is cooked through and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. (If the water evaporates before the rice has cooked through, add a few splashes of water across the rice and continue cooking.)
  8. Remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes before serving with extra yogurt, radishes, and cucumbers alongside.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • AnnMarie B.
    AnnMarie B.
  • Dax Carlton
    Dax Carlton
  • Lauren Miller
    Lauren Miller
  • Carole Mitchell
    Carole Mitchell
  • Jocelyn Grayson
    Jocelyn Grayson
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

29 Reviews

AnnMarie B. May 28, 2021
a bit disappointed, looking for an easy one-pot dish however the three main ingredients were not cooked at the same rate, (even though I cooked thighs on both sides) - the rice was cooked, but the potatoes were not, nor was the chicken, once the chicken is placed back into the pan with rice, it loses its crispy skin. Used tumeric instead of saffron, dates instead of prunes. Edible but will probably not attempt to make again.
Susan March 7, 2021
I halved the recipe and used turmeric instead of the saffron (added at the same time as the rice). I noticed that during the sauté step with the onion purée, the mixture turned a pale green. Could this have been related to my use of coconut oil? I seem to recall some interaction with garlic turning green.
sasen April 25, 2021
It’s just oxidation (interaction with air). The puréed, damaged garlic cells put out defensive pungent/spicy chemicals, and that’s what turns green. A restaurant that serves “whipped garlic” with pita told me to add lemon juice, and that does stabilize the color. But after a couple of days in the fridge, the leftovers will turn pastel green anyway.
Susan April 25, 2021
Thanks for the update. At what point should we add the lemon juice?
Dax C. December 9, 2020
I just made this and it's soo good. I used sweet potatoes instead of regular, because that's what I had. I just cut them up a little smaller, and I think I will keep the switch next time.

Rice cooked fine, I made sure to poke it down and keep it submerged. Chicken cooked fine, I think the "if your thighs are large brown well on both sides" bit is something a lot of commenters are missing or skipping. Half of mine were pretty big so I made sure to brown them more and everything cooked up to temp fine.

I think next time I'll cut back on the oil a bit since my grocers chicken tends to be very fatty and this was a little too greasy at the end. Though, honestly, this is clearly not a diet food so enjoy the flavor and just have a smaller portion.
hlg1021 December 7, 2020
I REALLY want to love this recipe. I've made it twice now - the flavor is so fantastic, but the rice never comes out quite right. I seem to always be left with too much liquid and the rice burns on bottom. I wanted to use this recipe to learn how to cook a one-pot rice dish and I don't feel any more confident about that than I did originally!

It seems like way too much ghee so I cut down on that the second time- used dried cherries instead because that's what I had. I only used potatoes the second go-around and I agree with other commenters that they feel unnecessary. I did not have the same problem as other folks whose chicken didn't cook- mine was great both times

Not sure if I'll make it again because the recipe seems to be missing something - not sure how to perfect my rice game if this went sideways for me twice
Lauren M. November 30, 2020
Another great chicken and rice recipe for the books. Packed with flavor and textures, this hit so many buttons. I don't think that the prunes are really necessary and the areas on my skillet where the rice crisped with a prune, the sugar caused that area to burn. Do serve with the extra yogurt and maybe some fresh cilantro, too.
Robin F. November 18, 2020
This came out fantastic! So good, I even got the crispy bottom. I’m so excited. I did watch your video three times today. Love, love, love.
Deb November 15, 2020
Excellent recipe. I liked the purée step and will use it in the future. I did cover the pan while simmering the rice etc. the crust on the bottom of the pan was wonderful
The only down side was the amount of fat
Bread A. November 15, 2020
Delicious! I loved this dish and so did my family, which includes a few finicky eaters! I also truly appreciated the methods used here to ensure everything cooked evenly, specifically the rice. My in-laws are Puerto Rican and I have struggled for years to master one of the primary dishes that is cooked all together in one pot. The rice is never uniformly cooked when I make the dish. Looking forward to using the soak method for rice next time! Bottom line - the flavors in this dish were so satisfying and perfect on a fall day. Will definitely make this again!
elyeq November 15, 2020
I liked it but I wouldn't make it again. 3/5
I broke down a whole chicken which even though it weighed 1.2kg, the serving of rice for this recipe is fine. Don't double it.
I wouldn't make it again because I don't think a lot of things are necessary for it to taste pretty much the same.
I would suggest:
1. dry brine and sear the chicken
2. put it in the oven for 20-35min at 250C (200C on my airfryer for 20min) until it's cooked.
3. stick the rice in the rice cooker with 1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala and a pinch of salt. put slightly less water in and stir through the chicken juices at the end/pan fry in the chicken fat.

I like pan fried potatoes as much as anyone but the grain we have is already rice, you could pretty much skip the blender step if you just stick in the rice cooker and the prunes didn't add much for me.
Quippy November 14, 2020
Amazing recipe. I seared the chicken for longer, about 8 minutes each side (thicker pieces) and it wasn’t cooked through but it’s meant to finish cooking in the simmer stage, which it did, beautifully. I ended up having to simmer for an extra ten minutes though (checking at least 2-3 times) because the rice did not cook through evenly without more splashes of water. I think the key point with the rice is—make sure every grain is submerged even if the pieces of chicken are poking out and depending on type of rice, more water may be needed. There are some genius tips in this recipe even for an experienced South Asian home cook, e.g., saltiness if the rice water will demonstrate the saltiness of the rice—and it works! No more guesswork! And yes, do use the ghee and saffron if you have it, makes an amazing difference. Please write a cookbook Sohla!!!
Rachel November 9, 2020
This recipe is absolutely scrumptious. Made a few tweaks based on a personal loathing of prunes and finding the chicken itself to be a little underseasoned the first time but MAN, the rice & potatoes in this dish is seriously unreal. I've never had anything like it before, it's packed with flavor and I didn't miss not having saffron at all.

First time making the dish: followed recipe to the letter, but subbed dates for prunes. They melted like candy. So good, highly recommend. Only had three chicken thighs, which meant there was a lot of leftover rice which could have totally been eaten plain bc it's that amazing, but served after all the chicken was gone as a meal on its own with two poached eggs on top. Divine. Found the chicken itself to be a little underwhelming compared to the mind-blowing deliciousness of the rice & potatoes,

Second time making the dish: kept dates instead of prunes. Used a whole cut up chicken, because that's what the grocery store had. Doubled the garam masala spice rub and added more salt and some cayenne pepper for heat. Seared all the chicken as instructed, but then let the breasts cook by themselves in an oven afterwards to make sure cooked through. Shoved all the pieces back on top for the 'leave alone and let simmer' stage.

Cannot recommend this recipe enough, it's so effing good. Making it for my parents next time I go home, because even though my mom doesn't like Indian food, the garam masala mix gives it more of an earthy cinnamon vibe that is palatable enough for people who don't like Indian/Southeast-Asian flavors but still packs plenty of depth and magic.

Run, don't walk to this recipe. Thanks for an absolute winner, Sohla!!
Rachel November 9, 2020
Forgot to add: I like my potatoes crispy or bust, so let them cook longer until they reached a color to my liking before moving on to the next step.
Rachel November 9, 2020
ALSO forgot to add, we keep kosher, so used an almondmilk yogurt instead of dairy and it was still unbelievably good. Also I just patted the chicken dry after washing, seasoned with the rub, and then went right into cooking. Didn't let it sit overnight or anything either time I tried it, and was still so yummy
TonyShlugg November 3, 2020
I’m so sure I followed this recipe to the letter but this was a bit of a disaster.

Rice was clumpy, thick and unevenly cooked. I cut the potatoes small but they were half raw. Chicken was undercooked after 35 mins and had to go in the oven.

Tastes good with a mint yoghurt sauce but I have to question the method. Maybe transfer to the oven when you add the chicken?
Carole M. October 31, 2020
I’m in the process, the chicken thighs hanging out with the dry rub overnight. The video and the printed recipe were not the same, however! She used smoked paprika instead of garam masala and sweet red pepper, then later tomatoes, neither of which are in the printed recipe. What happened to what I intended to make, Garam Masala chicken thighs??
brownhut November 1, 2020
The garam masala variation is shown interspersed throughout the video
Carole M. November 1, 2020
No doubt the recipes are wonderful; I do think the site needs more clarity and organization or order so recipes go with the demos, as do most cooking sites.
Thanks for techniques shared here.
rice4life October 29, 2020
The second the chicken hit the pan, it smelled like home, and it ended up tasting even better. This already feels like a comfort dish and it was my first time cooking it.
Jocelyn G. October 29, 2020
This was really delicious. Next time I might make a yogurt sauce to go with it.
Stephanie B. October 28, 2020
I tried this. I used leftover cauliflower that I had on hand instead of potatoes. My kids and husband loved it!
annie October 27, 2020
Unfortunately the chicken was not cooked by the time the rice was done. This meant and extra 15 min in the oven for the chicken, which kind of messed up my serving plans. Also, this recipe has a LOT of oil, I would suggest less oil, as the rice was greasy. Flavor delicious though.
Terri T. October 25, 2020
I'd like to use long-grain brown rice in this recipe (and I live at high altitude, which means I typically have to add about a third extra cooking time for rice). Do you think this one-pan approach will work for me?
Whitney B. December 25, 2020
I live at 6200 and used brown jasmine rice. It didn’t turn out, but I probably got the technique wrong. I used a cast iron skillet and didn’t bring it down to a simmer quick enough after adding the rice. Extra water probably would have helped would have helped as well. Good luck!
Stephanie L. October 18, 2020
I made this today after seeing Sohlas video on youtube. I didnt have saffron or potatoes so I skipped those. This is sooo easy and delicious. I will be making it again and definitely trying the paprika chicken version soon!
Marc L. October 15, 2020
Question: if I don't want to use dairy products in this recipe, what would you recommend? Thanks!
PanTostado October 17, 2020
Coconut milk yogurt?