Chicken and Rice – A Whole New Level.
I don’t really know where to begin explaining this recipe. Chicken and rice. Let’s face it, while it’s a very well loved and comforting meal, it’s not exactly at the top of the excitement ladder. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while a typical chicken and rice meal will elicit an “Mmmmm, good”, I wanted one that would instead give me a “Wow!!”.
I love rice. Rice of all kinds. I’ve cooked heirloom Carolina Gold a couple of times, but I knew I hadn’t really experimented with it enough to fully experience what it has to offer. This rice is classified as being long grain, but the grains are actually short and plump. They don’t resemble any long grain rice I’ve ever cooked.
Here is a quote from Anson Mills, from whom I purchased the rice, regarding Carolina Gold Rice: “The grandfather of long-grain rice in the Americas, Carolina Gold is a delicate non-aromatic rice with chameleon starch properties that allow it to produce fluffy, individual grains; creamy risotto; or sticky Asian-style rice, depending on how it is cooked. Exclusively new crop and milled to emulate fresh, hand-pounded rice, Anson Mills Carolina Gold rice has a clean, sweet flavor and mouthfeel superior to modern long-grain rice.”
Well, that’s a lot to live up to, but I was game. Since it was going to be baked I knew I’d need to rinse this rice very well in order to prevent it from being gummy. A lot of starch washed off this rice. A lot. I can see how it could be prepared as a creamy risotto, but that’s not what I was going for here.
After thoroughly rinsing the rice, I poured it into a large baking dish (11 x 14 inches) and then added chicken stock and seasonings. I went full throttle with this, otherwise it would simply be another nice, but forgettable chicken and rice bake. I added the zest and juice of 2 small cara cara oranges, grated garlic, saffron threads, tomato vinegar, Morita chipotle chili flakes, melted butter, salt, pepper, and chopped fresh oregano. Now we were talking. This seasoned stock was powerful. After pouring it over the rice, I covered the baking dish and put it in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, I seasoned chicken thighs with hot smoked paprika, salt, and pepper, and browned them well in a little oil in a hot skillet. It’s very much worthwhile to take your time and get that skin nice and deeply browned. I only browned the skin side, as I knew I wanted to finish these in the oven so that their juices could stream down into the rice. There was no need to brown the bottom side, as this is the side that would be sitting on top of the rice. It wouldn’t stay crisp and I also didn’t want to risk over cooking the chicken.
I removed the rice from the oven, uncovered it and added wedges of Campari tomatoes to the rice. I didn’t stir the rice, I only pushed the wedges down into the rice. I then placed the chicken thighs on top of the rice and returned the dish to the oven. I had increased the oven temperature to 475° and baked it for 10 minutes.
At this point I drizzled a couple tablespoons of pure maple syrup over the things and put them back in the oven for 5 minutes. That was it. The rice and chicken were both now fully cooked.
So, what did I think of this rice? Well, I ended up with a lightly crisp layer on top where the rice was directly exposed to the high heat oven. All along the edges and down the sides of the dish it had lightly browned. Inside the dish and underneath that top layer was rice that I can only describe as creamy. Each grain remained separate. There was no gumminess of clumping, but it had a distinctly creamy mouthfeel. Kind of remarkable.
The flavor? Well, I got what I was after. All the seasonings did their job well and melded together into a beautifully flavored meal. The wedges of tomatoes provided a nice fresh bite and the hint of maple syrup glaze on the chicken was like icing on the cake. This meal had it all. I can’t imagine how it could be improved because it really was that good. I made it a couple weeks ago and we haven’t stopped talking about it. I’m going to make it again this week because we didn’t get our fill. And I’m really looking forward to trying out the Carolina Gold rice in other recipes.