I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, but the last day of the year was a big deal. That was when we would have family over, exchange gifts, and truly feel like it was the holidays. I still remember like it was yesterday, how my mother would start brainstorming on the New Years Eve dinner menu day in advance. It was the same thing every year. There were dishes that had to be made, which she called “the classics”. But then, she also wanted to try new things and have her guests taste something new. Back in the day, there was no internet to find new recipes. So she would call her sister, who was just as much into cooking as she was, and spend hours on the phone exchanging ideas and catching up with the current trends of the culinary world.
Days in advance, every detail, from the recipes to the seating plan to the shopping list, would be written down, just to make sure that there was a plan to follow. For me, the best part of it all was the fact that this all happened in a celebratory fashion. Though it was about the dinner, it was also about having a good time and creating memories along the way.
Those days are long gone now. A little more than 2 years after her sudden passing, I think of those days as beautiful memories, and sometimes, cry over thinking that it will never be the same without her and her cheerful self.
Going back to the big day meal… Like I mentioned earlier, there were “the classics”. Those dishes were the ones that had to be made, or otherwise, in my mother’s mind, some guests would be disappointed. This Ottoman-Style Chicken Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Currants was one of those dishes. It was a recipe that was passed on to my mother from her mother. My grandmother would make it only on celebratory occasions, because in those days after the Second World War, it was hard to find pine nuts and even if you were able to find it, it was very expensive. So this was her go-to dish when it was an important day and she wanted to impress her guests.
This year, for the New Years Eve dinner, I am continuing with the tradition and celebrating it with this dish hoping that both my mother and grandmother are watching over me from wherever they are.
For the recipe: It actually is quite easy to make, but there are a couple of tricks to make it perfect. My mom would call those tricks “our family secrets”. And let me warn you, some of those tricks may not make any sense, but I assure you that they work. Here they are:
- Cooking angel hair pasta and rice: When cooking the angel hair pasta, make sure that it gets brown; almost to a level that it looks like it is burning. And don’t worry; as long as you are stirring it constantly, it will not burn. Same thing applies to the rice, it is imperative that you cook the rice thoroughly before adding the water into the pot.
- Shred the chicken right before adding it to the pilaf: In the past, I tried cooking the chicken in advance to save time, but it was just not the same. Throughout the years, I learned that it is best to cook the chicken right before cooking the pilaf and shredding it right before adding it to the pilaf. Even if it gets somewhat cold during the shredding process, the steam from the cooked pilaf warms it up.
- Fresh herbs: To me, what make this dish so delicious is the fresh parsley and dill. I recommend using the freshest herbs you can get your hands on. As soon as you bring them home from the supermarket, place them in a glass filled with water and chop them right before adding into the dish. In addition, make sure that your all spice and cinnamon are fresh as well.
- The magic happens during the steaming process: As you’ll read in the recipe, you place the currants, chicken, and fresh herbs on top of the rice right after it is cooked and close it with a lid. This is the time when all flavors get a chance to marinate. As it sits on the counter, the aromatics of the fresh herbs, all spice, and cinnamon flavor the chicken and rice with the help of the steam. So I highly recommend to not rushing this process and letting it sit at least for 30 minutes.
- Use a cup of the water that the chicken was cooked in: Instead of cooking the rice only in water, my mother would substitute a cup of the water with the cooking liquid that the chicken was cooked in. This way, during the cooking process the flavors of the chicken would get into the rice enhancing the end product. On a final note, the time and amount of water you use may change depending on the brand of rice you are using. So make sure to read instructions and alter the amount of water used accordingly.
As we are getting ready to welcome a new year, I wish you and your family a wonderful year full of success, love, health, and prosperity. Thank you so much for reading and supporting Foolproof Living. Looking forward to “seeing” you in 2015.
Cheers from the sunny Caribbean!
Chicken Pilaf with Pine Nuts, Currants, and Herbs
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 lightly toasted
- 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 on top of the chicken and currants. Put the lid back on and let it rest (steam) for 15 minutes.
- Place it in a large casserole dish, and gently mix, making sure that the shredded chicken pieces are equally distributed within the dish.
- When ready to serve, garnish it with chopped green onion and freshly grounded black pepper.