This chicken and saffron rice in my new cast iron skillet instantly spirited me back to weeknight dinners my mom used to make when I lived at home. The fall-off-the bone chicken, the yellow sticky rice enhanced by the mysterious flavor of saffron, the pops of green peas and the salty Spanish pimiento stuffed olives. Not to mention, the crispy burnt bits of rice that get stuck to the bottom of the pan during cooking—everything about it reminded me of my mom and full-blooded Portuguese grandmother. I don’t know if the dish is traditionally Portuguese, but it was our Portuguese.
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Chicken and Rice recipe from the book “How to Cook Everything,” this one-pot recipe a weeknight staple you’ll want make over and over. Saffron can be a bit pricey, but it really only takes a pinch to flavor the whole dish. I always find mine at a discount at TJ Maxx or Homegoods. Your senses will be shocked at how just a little bit of the red threaded spice will transform the flavor, color and aroma of plain white rice. If you can’t find saffron you can still make this dish successfully. Feel free to experiment with different spices or veggies you have hanging around.
One Skillet Chicken and Saffron Rice
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: About 1 hour
Makes: 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2–3 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken (thighs, breasts and/or drumsticks)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon hot Spanish paprika, optional
2 medium onions, diced (I diced this while the chicken was cooking in step 1 to save time)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (I also minced this while the chicken was cooking; one point for efficiency!)
1½ cups short- grain white rice
Pinch saffron threads*
3½ cups water, chicken stock or vegetable stock, or more as needed
1 cup frozen peas
½ cup Spanish Manzanilla Olives
- Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken skin with salt, pepper and the paprika—if using. When the oil is hot, add the chicken skin side down. Sprinkle the bottoms with salt and pepper and cook undisturbed—adjusting the heat so it doesn’t burn but is consistently sizzling—until the pieces release easily from the pan, 5 to 10 minutes. Then turn and rotate the chicken every few minutes to brown evenly. Once the chicken pieces brown, let cook for another 5 to 10 minutes then remove them from the pan.
- Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium and pour or spoon off the oil until only about 2 tablespoons remain. Add the onions to the pan and cook—stirring frequently—until they soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice and stir to coat the rice with a nice glossy sheen. Crumble in the saffron threads, if using.
- Return the chicken to the pan, add the water and stir gently to combine everything. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat so it bubbles gently but steadily. Cover the skillet and cook undisturbed for 20 minutes—then check the rice and chicken. The goal is to have the liquid absorbed, the rice tender and the chicken cooked through. If the water has been absorbed but the rice is not cooked, add another ¼ cup water and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. The meat is done when a quick-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155–165°F.
- Remove the skillet from the heat. Taste the rice and salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the peas and olives then cover the pan again and let it sit for 5 to 15 minutes. Serve.
* If you don’t have saffron you can still make this dish, but I would encourage you to use the 3½ cups of stock versus water to add more flavor to the rice.