This was the first dinner I made after being away in England for 3 weeks. I love staying with people and being cooked for and eating out but I really miss cooking in my own kitchen. And, I admit, I miss being selfish and making what I want to eat. After lots of indulgences and a long flight with two small children I wanted us to eat something clean but comforting. Something that would nourish us and shake the dust off my cooking skills. I also wanted something pretty hands off so that I could get on with the unpacking and piles of laundry I had.
I grabbed some new season asparagus and chicken legs at the store, not knowing what it would turn in to. This was our first asparagus of the year – always a cause for celebration as it reminds me that summer is almost here. I don’t buy asparagus out of season any more, even though most shops carry it year round in some shape or form. Like strawberries and other food in season, I love gorging on them when they are in season locally and then having a break so that when I eat them again the next year they’re something I’m craving. And of course, eating them seasonally means they are cheaper and fresher and taste so much better than flown in stuff.
I always have brown rice in the cupboard and garlic too. So I popped the rice on to cook in a saucepan and put the chicken and garlic in a roasting dish in the oven while I ran around like a crazy lady moving piles of clothes from one room to another while tripping over my jet lagged children. By the time the rice was cooked, the chicken was ready too. This is a great recipe to use up leftover cooked rice too. You could, I suppose, use cooked quinoa or cous cous in place of the rice if you prefer.
Then I had a moment of inspiration. I had planned to make a salsa or pesto to stir through the rice to flavour it up and then serve the chicken on top. I wasn’t really feeling it though so I decided to throw the cooked rice into the pan of chicken to soak up all the garlicy, chickeny juices. Why have I never done this before? It was amazing. The garlic had been roasted whole so it was sweet and I just squished it out of the skin and stirred it through the rice. I happily eat the skin of roasted garlic but you may want to pull it out before serving if you are more refined than me (not difficult). The finishing touch was some acid (vinegar but you could use lemon) to balance out the flavours (read this post if you want to know more about working without a recipe and balancing flavors and textures).
Leftovers were gorgeous for lunch the next day as I gave them more of an asian spin to stop it feeling too samey. I shredded the leftover chicken off the bone and stirred it through the rice then popped it in a frying pan to re-heat it. I added a little bit of water as the rice had dried out a bit. Then I added some frozen peas and tamari (you could use soy sauce) and lime juice. Some grated carrot and basil or coriander [cilantro] would have been good too.
Ingredients (serves 4 people)
4 chicken legs, skin-on, bone-in. You could also use chicken thighs or even whole chicken – adjust cooking times accordingly
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
8-12 cloves of garlic, still in their skins
1 teaspoon Maldon salt or less of regular grain sea salt
165g or 1 cup brown rice – I like Thai jasmine brown rice
250ml or 2 cups boiling water
1 bunch of asparagus when in season or greens of your choice
around 2 teaspoons of sherry or white wine vinegar or lemon juice
a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar
Optional – rocket [arugula] or watercress, sliced avocado, parsley, basil
1. Put your rice and water in a saucepan with a lid and put on a high heat with the lid on. When the water starts to boil (check this by listening rather than keep lifting the lid which will slow it down) transfer the pan to your lowest heat ring (the smallest one on your stove top). With the heat on the lowest setting leave the rice to barely simmer for between 20-40 minutes. The cooking time will depend on which type of rice you are using, your pan and your heat. Do not take the lid off for the first 20 minutes as you want the rice to steam and you will lose the steam each time the lid comes off. Also, don’t be tempted to stir it as you will make your rice mushy. After 20 minutes take a quick look and taste one of the grains of rice from the top of the pot. You should see little holes in the rice where the steam has forced its way out. This will show that most of the water has been absorbed by the rice. If it is cooked turn the heat off, if not, pop the lid back on and continue cooking. The rice will happily sit with the lid on for half an hour before serving.
2. While the rice cooks, put the chicken, sitting on top of the whole skin-on garlic cloves, in a metal roasting pan. Sprinkle the top of the chicken skin with the salt and smoked paprika then roast at 375F/190C for around 45 minutes, until the juices run clear when you pierce the knee part. Your chicken will take less time to cook if it is smaller and room temperature than it will if it is larger and straight from the fridge.
3. When the chicken is cooked, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate to rest, then throw the asparagus into the roasting pan and return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the asparagus gives when you squeeze the stalk between your finger and thumb.
4. When the rice and asparagus are ready, pour the rice into the roasting pan and mix it around with the garlic and pan juices. Use the side of a spoon to squish the garlic out of the skins and take the skins out if you like (I don’t). Gradually add the vinegar or lemon, mix and taste until the flavours are balanced. You could also stir through some chopped parsley or basil at this stage.
5. To serve, place some of the rice on each plate, top with the asparagus and drizzle them both with a good balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Then cut the chicken leg in half through the knee-joint and sit it on top of the asparagus. You could also pop some sliced avocado under the chicken with some dressed green leaves.