Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Baby, it's cold outside!

The Lott's Chicken and Rice
The title of this post, cliché as it sounds, reflects just how I've felt over the last few days. A Polar Vortex has descended into the swamp land and that's actually a bit scary to me. I'm a Deep-South lovin', flip-flop wearin' Louisiana lady and I do not like cold weather. I confess heartfelt sympathy for my Northern family and friends and wonder how in heaven's name they can stand wearing all those clothes just to go check the mail. No thanks!

We don't have the extreme problems they have but nevertheless, it's still very cold here. And even though I confess I'm (already) getting a bit tired of winter food, there is a simple one-pot recipe that always hits the spot, no matter. It warms you up and that's just what I need/want for dinner tonight. My Pappy and Mammy Lott were the best at making Chicken and Rice. Not by any means an elaborate dish, no swanky presentation, just a piping hot bowl that comfort's like nobody's business. It's the only thing our family really wants to eat when any of us get a cold or flu in the winter. It hugs you and then tucks you in. It's culinary medicine, y'all. 

My version remains simple just like my grandparent's recipe, but I do tweak a bit. Chicken and Rice is a simple dish, but not really that easy. To achieve the perfect consistency, there's a few steps that must be exact. The timing needs to be spot on or the result is too dry with squishy overdone rice. Adding too much stock to rice ratio can result in soup, not Chicken and Rice.  Now, mind you, I prefer mine a bit soupy, not to say swimming in broth, but not dry either.

I also like to add a bit of green onion and at times a veggie, such as zucchini when in season. Finely diced carrot or fresh English peas are also delicious. It's a recipe that is open to interpretation or can remain as plain as a Puritan. But the must for me is at serving time, the pièce de résistance, lemon. I adore lemon and lime and orange and grapefruit, all citrus really. Citrus juice and zest are indispensable in my daily cooking. And lemon is precisely the right acidic spritz to cut the richness of the chicken, add brightness to the stock and pair perfectly with the aromatic rice. My grandparents would never have added lemon or green onions and veggies in season, but if they could be with me tonight (God rest their souls) I bet they'd like my version. 

Chicken and Rice isn't indigenous to the South or to Louisiana either, but since we're a rice producing state it's a very common favorite, hereabouts. We cook lots of recipes that call for rice and for me chicken is a great partner. Let's begin...

Note: This recipe would serve 4 people easily. It can be adjusted for your needs. I used 4 large chicken thighs and 1-1/2 cups rice.

The Lott's Chicken and Rice

4 to 6 chicken thighs
1 box of chicken stock
Water if needed
1-1/2 - 2 cups raw white long grain rice
3 or 4 chopped green onions (both white and green)
Kosher salt
Black Pepper

Into a stock or soup pot add the chicken thighs and enough stock to cover. If the stock doesn't cover the chicken, add enough water to do so. Bring up the heat to just below a boil, but quickly reduce to low/medium simmer to poach the chicken. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is just done. Remove to a platter and cool. Then de-bone into bite sized pieces. 

Chicken thighs ready for the stock

Poaching in a pot of stock

Rinsing the rice
Rinse the rice in cold water until it runs clear. There is always a question from someone on whether to wash rice or not. I always wash rice and this is a place where I do not want excess starch to cloud or thicken the wonderful stock. So rinse your rice.

Note: The only exception I can think of at the moment is in Risotto making. Here you would want to begin with dry rice and the Arborio rice used for this is meant to be starchy to create the characteristic creaminess of Risotto. 

Pearly rice drifting into the chicken stock
Before adding the rice, adjust the stock to at least 4 *heaping* cups and add plain water if more is needed. Taste test here for salt because none has been added with the stock being salted. Add to your preference, but carefully. Add the black pepper, bring to a boil and shower the rice into the pot, stirring well afterward. Add the green onions and the diced chicken. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover with a lid, but not tightly. Angle the lid slightly. This is where it gets tricky so keep a close watch on its progress. When the rice begins to swell, taste test to check the tenderness. Just before its done, when still rather al dente, remove the entire pot from the heat and close the lid completely allowing it to steep for 5 minutes or so. And be sure there is enough liquid to finish without becoming too dry. Add more warmed stock if necessary. Remove the lid and add the juice of 1/2 lemon and stir. Serve to a happy family or friend.
LOVE lemon
Big pot of luscious comfort

Chicken and Rice with another burst of lemon, served with a hot slice of Cornbread

It's just right!

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