I am a list person. I have lists all over my house… things to do, things to cook, etc. I love a good list. (I especially love crossing items off of these lists!) This simple version of this typically complex dish was part of Bon Appétit’s list of the Most Popular Chicken Dishes of 2019. Bon Appétit loves lists too. 🙂
This dish is all about the rice, and I had some special Basmati rice given to me by a friend just waiting for an occasion to shine. Perfect. I loved the layers of flavor and different textures in the finished dish. It is loaded with spices, nuts, dried fruit, and topped with caramelized onions.
The raita and the chicken (in marinade) are prepared a day in advance. This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Sohla El-Waylly. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in and modified the proportions. The creamy raita is essential to the finished dish. We also ate it with roasted cauliflower on the side. It was buttery, rich and delicious.
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
For the Onion Raita and Chicken Marinade:
½ tsp granulated sugar
1½ cups whole-milk yogurt, divided (I used whole-milk Greek yogurt)
3 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 red onion
1 4″ piece fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamon
10 boneless, skinless, chicken things or 4-6 bone-in chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lbs)
2 dried bay leaves
For the Rice and Assembly:
¾ cup kosher salt
2 cups Basmati rice, preferably aged, such as Daawat (I used Aahu Barah)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
¾ cup melted ghee
½ cup mixed coarsely chopped nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, and/or walnuts
1 T granulated sugar
¾ cup mixed dried fruit, such as prunes, apricots, pineapple, and/or cranberries (I used chopped dried mango and dried cranberries)
To Make the Onion Raita:
- Finely grate the zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp) into a small bowl.
- Squeeze in juice from one half of the lemon.
- Add sugar, 1 cup yogurt, 1 tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper.
- Finely chop one-quarter of the onion and stir into raita.
- Let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour or chill up to overnight.
To Marinate the Chicken:
- Purée ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, juice of remaining lemon half, and remaining three-quarters of onion, ½ cup yogurt, 2 tsp. salt, and ¾ tsp. pepper in a blender until smooth. (I used a Vitamix.) Transfer to a medium bowl.
- If using bone-in chicken thighs, pull skin off chicken thighs and discard.
- Transfer the chicken to the bowl with ginger mixture, add bay leaves, and toss to combine.
- Cover with a plate and let marinate at room temperature at least 2 hours or preferably chill up to overnight.
To Make the Rice and Assemble the Dish:
- Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 350°, preferably on convection.
- Bring salt and 3 quarts of water to a rapid boil in a large pot over high heat.
- Meanwhile, place 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.
- Add drained rice all at once to boiling salted water. Initially the water will stop boiling and the rice will sink to the bottom. Stir a few times with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking, then stop stirring. After a couple of minutes, the water will return to a simmer and a few grains will begin appearing near the surface. The rice is ready to drain when the grains have nearly doubled in size, the water returns to a boil, and most of the rice rapidly bubbles to the surface. When you bite into a grain, you want to see a hard white core; just like pasta cooked al dente, the grains should remain firm. Depending on the quality of your rice, this can take anywhere from 3–7 minutes, so begin tasting the grains early. (I boiled my rice for 7 minutes.)
- Drain rice and rinse with water until cool. Set aside.
- Cook onion and ghee in a 4–6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until onions are golden and crisp, 8–10 minutes. The sides and bottom of pot may brown and even develop some char. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to a plate. (I used a 6-quart enameled cast iron pot.)
- Reduce heat to medium-low and toast nuts in ghee in same pot, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and darkened in color, 2–3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer nuts to another plate; set aside for serving. (I used raw slivered almonds and raw walnut pieces.)
- Transfer half of ghee in pot to a small bowl; set aside.
- Increase heat to medium-high and sprinkle sugar over remaining ghee in pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until sugar forms deeply caramelized clumps, 3–5 minutes.
- Add chicken, scraping in marinade, and bring to a simmer.
- Remove from heat and arrange chicken and marinade in an even layer.
- Sprinkle with dried fruit and one-third of fried onions.
- Top with rice.
- Poke 5–7 holes into rice with the back of a wooden spoon until you reach the chicken. Drizzle reserved ghee over and top with another third of fried onions.
- Cover with a tight-fitting lid and return to medium heat. Cook until you can hear the chicken gurgling in the pot and wisps of steam just begin to escape from lid, about 5 minutes. Do not open the lid at any point! If you peek, you will risk losing too much steam, preventing the rice from properly cooking through.
- Transfer pot to oven and bake, covered, 45 minutes. Let rest at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour before uncovering.
- Using a large spoon or small plate, gently scoop rice off chicken and transfer to a platter. Carefully spoon chicken thighs and any sauce over rice. Top with reserved fried nuts and remaining onions.
- Serve alongside onion raita while ghee is still hot and rice is steamy.