One-Skillet Garam Masala Chicken Thighs & Saffron Rice

October 12, 2020
10 Ratings
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

Watch This Recipe
One-Skillet Garam Masala Chicken Thighs & Saffron Rice
  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 4
  • 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)
In This Recipe
  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.

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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.