Today’s recipe, Chicken Rice Pilaf, comes from my mother’s cookbook that I inherited after her passing. This easy pilaf recipe was her specialty that she would make during the holiday season. It is the newest addition to my collection of easy Turkish recipes.
Nowadays, I make it every time I make chicken stock and/or have some leftover shredded chicken that I want to use. With that being said, I wrote the recipe below in a way that shows you how to prepare and cook chicken from scratch just in case you do not have leftover chicken on hand.
I serve this dish as an entree, but it could also be served as a side dish with chicken recipes.
What Is Rice Pilaf, and how is it different from rice?
If you do a quick search online, you will see that the term “pilaf” has many names depending on the cuisine it is featured in. In Turkey, we call it pilav, whereas, in other countries, it has been referred to as plov, pilau, and pilaf. They are essentially the same thing, white (mostly long-grain or jasmine rice) cooked with aromatics.
The difference between “rice” and “rice pilaf” is the technique that is used for cooking them. Rice is cooked by first boiling water and then adding rice in it without any additional flavorings. Whereas, rice pilaf is cooked by first sautéing rice with aromatics like butter, spices, onion, garlic, etc., and then cooking it in water/broth.
In the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, rice pilaf is usually cooked by sauteing orzo or vermicelli noodles with butter before adding in the rice.
What Kind of Rice Do You Use In This Recipe?
The type of rice I used in this recipe is long-grain white rice. To me, long-grain white rice provides me with a similar taste to my mom’s chicken pilaf recipe.
This easy chicken pilaf recipe has two sets of ingredients. The first set is for the chicken and the second set is for the rice pilaf.
For The Chicken:
As I mentioned earlier, I usually make this chicken pilaf when I have leftover store-bought rotisserie chicken or if I have some leftover from making chicken stock. Feel free to skip cooking the chicken (and the chicken ingredients) if you are using leftover chicken as well.
If not, gather bone-in chicken thighs, onion, garlic, lemon juice, and water.
For The Rice Pilaf:
To cook the chicken rice pilaf, you will need butter, orzo, long-grain white rice, allspice, ground cinnamon, pine nuts, and water (or chicken stock).
You will also need dried currants, scallions, fresh dill, and fresh herbs to flavor and garnish this chicken rice pilaf recipe.
Substitutions for Ingredients:
- Chicken: I used chicken thighs, but you can also use chicken breast or drumsticks. I prefer using a bone-in chicken to provide more flavor, but any chicken you have on hand would work in this recipe.
I usually remove the skin, but it is a personal preference, and either way would work.
- Dried Currants: If you cannot find dried currants, you can also use dried golden raisins.
- Orzo: You can substitute orzo with vermicelli noodles.
- Pine nuts: You can use sliced or slivered almonds in place of pine nuts.
Step By Step Instructions – How To Make It:
The recipe for this stove-top rice pilaf has three folds.
The first one is cooking the chicken, the second one is cooking the rice pilaf with aromatics, and then the final step is garnishing it with fresh herbs, currants, and scallions.
How To Prepare Chicken?
Start with cooking chicken thighs with the aromatics. To do so:
- Prep the chicken: Place chicken thighs, onion, garlic, lemon juice, 1-teaspoon salt, and water in a saucepan with a lid over medium heat.
- Bring it to a boil & let it simmer: Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer until the chicken is cooked through, skimming off any foam collected on the top. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
- Shred the chicken: Reserve a cup of the liquid to use to cook the rice. Using two forks, shred the chicken into small bite-sized pieces. Set aside. Discard the rest of the liquid, bones, and cooked vegetables.
To me, what makes this chicken rice pilaf so special is the addition of currants. The sweetness coming from dried currants mixed in with pine nuts and fresh herbs transforms this otherwise boring rice pilaf recipe into incredibly flavorful rice pilaf. Soaking them in hot water allows them to plump up.
All you have to do is to place them in a bowl and pour over some boiling water and let them sit while you are cooking the chicken and rice.
How to make rice pilaf on the stove?
Start working on cooking the rice pilaf as your chicken is cooking. To cook rice pilaf on the stove, simply:
- Saute orzo with unsalted butter: Heat butter in a Dutch oven (or any other heavy bottom pot with a lid) over medium heat. Add orzo and cook, stirring constantly until it is browned. This will take about 5-7 minutes, and your kitchen will smell amazing. Don’t be alarmed if your orzo looks like it is burned a little bit. That is fine.
- Add the rest of the flavoring agents & rice: Stir in allspice, cinnamon, pine nuts, and white rice. Sautee, stirring constantly for 6-7 minutes. Make sure that the rice is thoroughly mixed in the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour in the liquid: Add 1 cup of the reserved liquid (from cooking the chicken) and 2 ⅓ cups of boiling water over the rice. Give it a stir. Put the lid on, bring it to a boil, turn down the heat to low, cover tightly with the lid, and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
Garnish & Let It Rest:
Once the pilaf is cooked, remove the lid and top it off with the shredded chicken, drained currants, fresh chopped parsley, dill, and scallions.
Put the lid back on and let it rest for 15 minutes. The steam in the cooked rice will warm up the chicken.
How To Serve?
After it is rested, give it a gentle toss and make sure the fresh herbs and chicken are mixed in with the rice pilaf.
I usually serve this chicken pilaf recipe as a centerpiece in a large oval serving or casserole dish. With all the sweet and savory ingredients, it makes the most delicious looking holiday dish.
While it is optional, I also recommend seasoning it with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper at the very end. That is exactly how my mom served this Turkish pilaf with chicken recipe.
- Baked Chicken and Rice Pilaf: Alternatively, you can use this rice pilaf to stuff a whole chicken (like you would do with turkey) and cook it in the oven. If you prefer to do that, skip cooking the chicken separately and cook the pilaf as it is written in the recipe. Fill the cavity of your chicken with the cooked pilaf and roast it in the oven. When ready to serve, garnish with the fresh herbs and scallions.
- Chicken Rice Pilaf Casserole: If you follow the recipe below, you will see that I took advantage of the steam in the pot and warmed the chicken on top of the cooked rice. Alternatively, you can place the cooked rice in a casserole dish, top it off with the shredded chicken, and warm it up in a 300 degrees F oven for 15-20 minutes.
How To Store Leftovers? & How To Freeze?
Leftovers kept in an airtight container in the fridge should keep fresh up to 3 days. When reheating, you might have to add some water into the rice.
I have never been able to be successful with freezing rice. You can technically freeze this dish, but it becomes so mushy that I would not recommend freezing it.
Other Chicken Recipes You Might Also Like:
There you have it, friends, an easy healthy rice pilaf recipe that is (to me) the best way to use leftover chicken. If you are adventurous in the kitchen and want to try chicken recipes from all over the world, here are a few other recipes you might also like:
- Cuban Roasted Cornish Hen
- Indian Crock Pot Butter Chicken
- Fricassee Chicken
- Chicken Lo Mein
- Mediterranean Lemon Chicken
Chicken Rice Pilaf Recipe
To Cook The Chicken:
- 1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs washed skins removed
- 1 large or 2 small onions, cut into 4 pieces
- 2 cloves of garlic cut into smaller pieces
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 8 cups of water
For The Currants:
- 1/4 cup dried currants
- 1 cup water
For The Rice:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup orzo
- 1 1/2 teaspoons all spice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1 1/2 cup long-grain rice rinsed thoroughly
- 2 1/3 cup water boiling hot
- 1/2 cup fresh dill roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley roughly chopped
- 2 stalks of scallions (green parts only) – chopped
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Cook the chicken and make a quick chicken stock:
- Place chicken thighs, onion, garlic, lemon juice, 1-teaspoon salt, and water in a large pot. Bring it to a boil, and then gently simmer (in medium-low heat) until the chicken is cooked through, skimming and discarding the foam from the top as you go, 25-30 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate, and allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Using two forks shred them into smaller and thinner strips. Cover with aluminum foil and set aside. Discard the bones. Reserve 1 cup of the liquid that the chicken was cooked in.
- Place currants in a small bowl and pour boiling water over it. Set aside.
Cook the rice:
- Heat the butter in a large pan. Add orzo, and cook, stirring constantly, until brown. It will look like it is (almost) burning. This will take 5-7 minutes.
- Add the allspice, cinnamon, pine nuts, and rice. Cook in medium heat, stirring constantly for 6-7 minutes, making sure that the rice is thoroughly mixed with orzo and spices.
- Add 1 cup of the reserved liquid and 2 1/3 cups of boiling water, 1-teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Give it a stir. Bring it to a boil, turn down the heat to low, cover tightly with the lid, and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
Garnish and rest:
- Remove from the heat. Open the lid, place the shredded chicken on top of the rice. Drain the currants and scatter it on top of the chicken.
- Top it off with the fresh herbs and scallions on top of the chicken and currants. Put the lid back on and let it rest (steam) for 15 minutes.
- Give it a gentle mix making sure that the shredded chicken pieces are equally distributed within the dish. Place it in a serving or casserole dish,
- When ready to serve, season it with freshly grounded black pepper.
- The amount of water and time to cook the rice may differ based on the brand you use. Check for the cooking directions on the package for the right amount of water and time to cook the rice.
- I used 1 cup of the liquid that the chicken was cooked in to enhance the chicken flavor and subtracted that 1 cup from the total amount of water I needed to cook the rice.
This Chicken Rice recipe was originally published in December of 2014. It has been updated with new information and photos with no changes made to the originally published recipe.