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Nigella Lawson’s Chicken In A Pot With Lemon And Orzo

A final note: although this isn’t easily scale-downable, in light of the fact that a whole chicken has the starring role, I do often make a version of it for a soothing solo supper. For this, you don’t need the oven, as it’s frankly easier to cook it all on the stove; you could, of course, cook the recipe proper on the stove and not in the oven, but I find there is more evaporation of the flavorsome liquid that way. Anyway, get out a small saucepan that comes with a tightly fitting lid, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and put a large chicken thigh (bone-in and skin-on) in it, skin-side down, and let it fry for a good 10 minutes over medium heat until it’s golden brown. While that’s happening, peel and finely dice a smallish carrot, slice a small leek, or half a large one, and peel a fat clove of garlic. Once the chicken skin has browned, take the pan off the heat, turn the chicken thigh skin-side up and finely grate the zest of half a lemon into the pan, then mince or grate the garlic in as well, followed by ½ teaspoon of dried tarragon or thyme. Add the prepared carrot and leek, and pour 2 cups of light chicken broth over, though this doesn’t have to be homemade. (You don’t get enough flavor from one chicken thigh cooked for a relatively short time to be able to use water alone.) Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, and ½ teaspoon of flaky sea salt or kosher salt (or ¼ teaspoon of fine sea salt) unless the broth you’re using is salty enough, give a bit of a stir, and put back on the heat, this time at high, and bring to a boil. Once it starts bubbling, clamp on a lid and turn the heat to low (or medium low, depending on how big the burner is) and cook at a firm simmer for about 40 minutes. Check that the chicken and cubes of carrot are cooked through; it is as essential that the carrots are soft as it is that the chicken is well cooked. Add ¼ cup of orzo to the pan, making sure it’s all submerged, replace the lid, and cook over medium heat for 10–12 minutes until soft. Leave the pan on the stove, with the lid still on but the heat off, for another 10 minutes or so, and then shred the chicken thigh with a couple of forks (the skin will be flabby, so you may want to remove it along with the bones) and decant to a large bowl, adding freshly chopped parsley, some leaves and sprigs of thyme or feathery fresh dill.

Don’t let these things trouble you unduly; this is a very forgiving dish. It doesn’t rely on precision timing: the chicken, leeks, and carrots are meant to be soft, and I even like it when the orzo is cooked far beyond the timing specified on the package. It’s also open to variation, owing to what’s in your kitchen. You can, for example, replace the orzo with rice if you prefer, although you need to know that it will be slightly puddingy cooked this way; I don’t mean this disparagingly, but to indicate the soft, swollen texture. Barley works well, too, though will need to go in sooner, or you can use ditalini or any other small pasta you want. If you prefer to use dried thyme in place of the dried tarragon, by all means do; I also like it with dried mint. I could go on, but there is no need to add complications: this is a simple recipe that brings deep contentment.

It’s not in the spirit of things to be utterly specific with this kind of cooking: if you’re feeding small children, for example, you may not want to add the red pepper flakes. Similarly, you may want to use just one lemon, rather than the two I like. Your chicken may weigh more or less: the ones I get tend to be around 3½ pounds. And although I have specified the Dutch oven I always use, you obviously will use the one you have, which will make a difference to how quickly everything cooks, how much evaporation there will be, and so on.

This is not exactly the same as perhaps the most precious recipe in my repertoire, My Mother’s Praised Chicken, which found a home in my eighth book, Kitchen, but it owes a lot to it. A family favorite, it’s a simple one-pot dish which brings comfort and joy, and it is my pleasure to share that with you.