Thai-Inspired Oven-Baked Chicken and Rice
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour
- Serves 6 smaller servings or 3 very large ones
Chicken and rice is a soulful combination, with rich traditions all over the world. I love a one-pot meal, and there are lots of good ways to cook chicken and rice together. Me being a Cajun, jambalaya comes to mind. But something that’s always nagged at me when doing a chicken and rice dish is the shame it is to not end up with crispy skin on the chicken. Often you spend time browning the skin and getting it crispy at the outset, only to lose that effect by finishing the chicken either covered with a lid or submerged in liquid (or both) with the rice.
So. I’ve been tinkering with a technique that does a pretty good job of solving this problem. The trick is to bake the chicken, on top of the rice, in the oven. That way, both the chicken and rice are cooked through in the same pot, thus still allowing the chicken to flavor the rice, as it also develops and keeps that crispy skin, because the skin is exposed to the hot oven, not covered with a lid or submerged in liquid. You get the added bonus of the roasted flavor and crispy bits on the edge of the rice that only an oven can produce.
Important to note: I use chicken thighs in this recipe, because they have a lot more flavor than white meat, and they’re much more forgiving – you have to try pretty hard to overcook chicken thighs, unlike breasts. And with this recipe, you do need some time in the oven for the rice to cook. As always, bone-in will give the dish more flavor, but boneless thighs are good too, if you can find them with skin on.
One way to think about cooking is to cross reference flavor profiles with cooking concepts. For example, I mostly developed this “oven-baked chicken and rice” concept with a Cajun flavor profile, which for me entails some type of Cajun seasoning (like Tony Chachere’s), bay leaves, and maybe thyme; a veggie combo of onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic; and garnishes of Louisiana-style hot sauce, green onions, and parsley. This recipe, on the other hand, is the same technique, but with a Thai-inspired taste. So the seasoning I use here is soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriracha, peanut butter, coconut milk, and lime zest; the veg is onion, red bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and ginger; and the garnishes are lime juice and cilantro. I’m sure there are other ingredients that would make this recipe more authentically Thai, but frankly, my closest grocery store doesn’t have a great Asian food section, and I’m always in favor of using what’s at hand, so I’m happy to keep this recipe more streamlined. The point is – feel free to cook with whatever flavors you want. I can imagine Mexican, Indian, Italian, French, and Spanish versions of this concept.
P.S. Fish sauce is ubiquitous in southeast Asian cuisine – it gives dishes a funky, possibly umami(?) kick. But as Jacques Pepin would say, be parsimonious with it. A little bit goes a long way, and generosity here could leave your meal smelling like a dirty sock.
P.P.S. My girlfriend just gave me a really nice 3.5 quart enameled cast iron braising pan, which I used for this dish. It’s twelve inches across, which turned out to be the perfect size - big enough to hold all the ingredients, but shallow enough so that the oven browns the chicken skin. Any heavy, oven-proof 12-inch pan should work fine. —Kyle Bienvenu
chicken thighs (preferably bone-in, skin-on)
coconut oil, or the oil/fat of your choice
large yellow onion
red bell pepper
jalapeno (or less, or more, according to taste)
teeth of garlic
soy sauce (2 tbsps. for cooking sauce, 2 tbsps. for marinade, if you want)
fish sauce (not tbsps.!)
Sriracha (or less, or more, according to taste)
can coconut milk
2 1/2 cups
long grain rice
fresh ground black pepper
- If you’ll be cooking soon, pre-heat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
- Make the cooking sauce/marinade: in a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, the peanut butter, fish sauce, Sriracha, sugar, and the zest of the lime. With a fork or whisk, stir everything together until smooth and uniform. Add the coconut milk and stir to incorporate well.
- Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Place it in a sealable container and spoon two tablespoons of the sauce, plus two more tablespoons of soy sauce over it. Massage the sauce into the chicken and seal the container. If it will marinate for more than a half hour, put the container in the fridge. If not, it’s ok to keep it out.
- Dice the onion and bell pepper. Mince the jalapeno, garlic, and ginger.
- Remove the chicken from the container and pat it dry with paper towels. If it’s wet, it won’t brown and get crispy.
- Put the oil in a large, shallow, oven-proof pan over medium heat.
- When the oil is shimmering, lay the chicken in the pan, skin-side down. If you can’t easily fit all six pieces of chicken in the pan, work in batches. Better this than crowding the pan, which could lower the temperature of it too much and result in boiled, rather than browned chicken.
- Leave the chicken in the pan to saute, without touching it, for 5 minutes.
- With a spoon, tongs, or spatula gently check to see if the skin has browned. If so, flip the chicken. If not, let it cook longer.
- Once you’ve flipped the chicken, let it cook on the bone-side for another four minutes, then remove it from pan.
- Once all the chicken thighs have been browned and removed, add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and ginger to the pan. Stir it all around and scrape up the brown crispy bits off the bottom.
- Let the veg cook for a few minutes, until translucent.
- Add the rice to the pan. Stir it all around so that the rice is coated in oil, and let it cook for a minute, continuing to stir it.
- Add the sauce to the pan. Stir everything together to incorporate, then move the ingredients around so that they’re distributed uniformly in the pan. Add a little water and incorporate if necessary, so that the liquid is about a half inch above the level of the ingredients.
- When the liquid comes to a boil, place the chicken thighs skin-side up on top of the rice and veg, making sure that the skin is exposed and not submerged in the liquid. See the juices that the chicken released onto the plate? Pour those into the pan.
- Put the pan into the 350 degree oven on the top rack.
- Cook for 35 minutes and check to see if the rice is done and the liquid has cooked out. If not, put the pan back in the oven until done.
- Garnish with a lime wedge and cilantro.
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