This one-pan chicken wonder combines crispy-skinned chicken, baked directly on top of buttery, lemony orzo, studded with wild mushrooms, leeks and baby spinach. It’s a complete (and completely delicious) dinner, made in a single skillet.
There’s a reason we make so many one-pan dinners: in a small kitchen, it keeps the oven clutter to a minimum, simplifies the cooking process, and makes clean-up straightforward. The aim, of course, is to get everything properly cooked at the same time: with meat, achieving both the desired Maillard sear (aka; that burnished, dark brown skin) and safe internal temperature; with pasta or grains, getting the texture perfect without overcooking it into a limp mess. Our crispy chicken and orzo dish takes advantage of the pre-oven searing of the chicken and handles the orzo like a risotto, resulting in success on all fronts. The addition of plenty of mushrooms, leeks and spinach turns it into a healthy, one-pot meal.
We have cookware that we just love. Some are serving dishes that only see the light of day at Thanksgiving or dinner parties. Others, like our enameled cast iron Dutch oven and cast-iron skillets, are industrial workhorses that excel at recipes where we start on the stovetop and finish in the oven. They’re also big, so when it’s just the two of us, it can seem like overkill to bring out the heavy artillery for a weeknight dinner.
But this dish, to use an expression I genuinely hate, is right in the wheelhouse of Big Skillet. (What is a wheelhouse? I have no idea. Something to do with boats. Or sports. Or houses on wheels. Actually, a house on wheels would be the best thing ever. You could go on holiday and never have to get out of bed.) Cast iron’s ability to achieve and retain high levels of heat make it easy to brown the chicken pieces. And its large capacity allows you to nestle the chicken into the vegetables and orzo and not worry that you’re crowding the pan. Yes, THE pan, singular. It’s one-pan chicken! (Please don’t read that in a Jerry Seinfeld voice, this isn’t that kind of blog.)
There are a couple of ways you can go with the chicken. We most often use bone-in thighs for this type of dish, since we’ve found they have their flavor and texture stand up to a combined searing and oven-baking (compared to their boneless versions) without drying out. This time, though, we went with the full thigh-leg pieces, and you can use either (or even breasts, if that’s your preference). We were able to fit four leg-thigh pieces comfortably in our skillet; if you went with bone-in thighs you could probably accommodate eight.
To really get the chicken properly seared and partially cooked on the inside, we gave it a helping hand – well, pan – by weighing it down in the skillet with a slightly smaller, but equally heavy, cast iron pan. You can use whatever you have that’s flat and heavy, or combine a saucepan with weights. Picture a large, heavy cast-iron skillet on top of the chicken below. You can put a little foil between the meat and the pan to keep it from getting chicken-y.
Once the chicken skin is a lovely dark golden brown (it won’t be fully cooked through, but that will happen at the oven stage), we remove it from the skillet and prep the vegetable base. We opted for mushrooms and leeks here, which cook down in the remaining chicken fat (you want about 3 tablespoons total, so you may need to remove some or add a little olive oil, as needed) before being seasoned with garlic and thyme.
If you don’t have leeks, a yellow onion or a few shallots will do just fine. These are also great vegetables to put in a risotto, which is no coincidence since that’s not a world away from how we’re handling the orzo. That pasta gets added and toasted a little, and then we deglaze the pan with dry sherry, our favorite flavor with mushrooms and chicken. White wine would also work well, or you could skip the alcohol altogether and just add a little extra lemon at the end.
Once the orzo has soaked up the sherry, stir in the stock and bring it to a simmer for a few minutes until the orzo swells up enough to support the chicken on top. Then the whole shebang can cook, uncovered, in the oven until it’s ready – use an instant-read thermometer if you’re not sure (you want chicken to be 165ºF, we take it out a few degrees under, since the temperature will continue to rise a little as it sits.)
Once the chicken is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and put the chicken on a plate or platter to rest. Then, stir the orzo and if it looks a little dry, add the last half cup of stock along with the lemon juice. There will be plenty of residual heat left to wilt the baby spinach. Just add it in big handfuls and stir as you go. It will wilt down to nothing. Now taste it for seasoning, and add salt, pepper or more lemon as needed (if a little grated Parmesan happened to fall in the pan at this stage, no one would be upset).
Our one-pan chicken dish was adapted from this delicious recipe from Bon Appétit.
- 4 attached chicken legs and thighs (or 8 separate pieces), skin-on, bone-in (about 2 lb./ 1k)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons (45g) unsalted butter, divided
- 3/4 pound (340g) mixed wild mushrooms (or white button), sliced
- 2 medium leeks (3/4 lb, 340g), white and pale green parts only, chopped (or a large yellow onion)
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3 teaspoons (3g) fresh thyme leaves (or ½ teaspoon dried)
- 2 cups (about 10 oz / 285g) orzo
- 1/2 cup (120ml) dry sherry (or substitute white wine)
- 3½ cups (830ml) low-sodium chicken broth, divided
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
- 3 oz (85g) baby spinach
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Dry chicken well and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet set over medium-high. Add chicken, skin side down, in a single layer. To get an even sear, place another heavy skillet on top of chicken, pressing it down. Cook until skin is crisp and deep golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside. It will not be fully cooked at this point.
- Add mushrooms and leeks and cook, scraping up any brown bits from the pan and stirring occasionally, until leeks are wilted and mushrooms are light brown, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in orzo and cook until toasty smelling, about 3 minutes. Pour in sherry and stir, until liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute. Add 3 cups broth, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Nestle chicken back in pan, skin side up and transfer skillet to oven; bake, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through (it should register 165ºF on a thermometer) and orzo is tender, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and transfer chicken to a platter. Stir orzo and, if dry, stir in the last ½ cup broth. Stir in lemon juice, zest and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Fold in baby spinach, a handful at a time, until wilted. Taste orzo for seasoning. Serve with lemon wedges.