Spinach and Rice Pilaf with Chicken

January 26, 2011
By Holly Jennings

This is Georgia Cone’s family recipe for Spanakorizo me Kotopoulo, a hearty one-pot chicken-and-rice dish evolved from the simpler, vegetarian Spanakorizo, or Spinach and Rice Pilaf. To make this version, you begin by browning chicken pieces and then proceed with the recipe as if making Spinach and Rice Pilaf, swapping the water or vegetable broth out for chicken broth for a richer pilaf.

Georgia’s family likes to use converted rice for pilafs; she says that it holds up better after longer cooking times. For many years I’d thought converted rice was some sort of instant rice. Far from it. Converted rice has been parboiled and then toasted, which, despite it being partially precooked, makes it very hard—making it take longer to cook than regular rice, and hold its shape.

The ideal consistency of this pilaf is not dry but moist. If not all of the broth has been absorbed when the rice is done, use a slotted spoon to serve the pilaf. On the other hand, according to Georgia, if there is a little bit of the flavorful liquid on each person’s plate, it’s a treat to sop it up with crusty bread. When she has a small amount of pilaf leftover, Georgia likes to add it to broth to make an instant, nourishing soup.

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (if using chicken breasts, cut them in half crosswise)

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onions

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

½ cup chopped fresh dill (see note)

1 (14.5-oz) can crushed or diced tomatoes (with liquid)

½ cup dry white wine

2¾ cups homemade chicken broth or 1½ (14.5-oz) cans chicken broth, divided

1 cup Uncle Ben’s converted rice long-grain rice or regular long-grain rice

1 pound fresh spinach, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped, or 1½ (10-oz) packages frozen chopped or leaf spinach, thawed and drained

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Juice of ½ lemon

Lemon slices, for serving

Plain yogurt, for serving

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

1. Generously season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven, brown the chicken pieces on both sides in the olive oil and butter over medium heat, about 5 minutes each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. (Do not discard the oil in the Dutch oven.)

2. Add the onion and garlic to the Dutch oven and sauté until soft over medium heat.

3. Add the parsley, dill, tomatoes, and wine. Let simmer for 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat to let the flavors meld and the wine reduce.

4. Return the browned chicken pieces to the pan and add 1¾ cups or 1 can of broth. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

5. Add the rice and increase the heat to high. When bubbling, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat. Check the rice for doneness, and, if not tender, cook, covered, for another 5 minutes. If all of the liquid has been absorbed, add a little water or broth.

6. When the rice is tender, add the spinach and the remaining 1 cup of water or broth or ½ can of broth. Steam, covered, until the spinach is cooked but still bright green, about 8 minutes.

7. When the spinach is cooked, remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and gently turn the steamed spinach into the pilaf. Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes, before serving. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

8. Serve hot or room temperature with lemon slices and yogurt and garnish with fresh chopped parsley, if using

Note: If fresh dill is out of season, the best alternative is a packaged chopped dill blend available in tubes and sold in the produce section of grocery stores. Once opened, it should be refrigerated. Use 2 tablespoons of the dill blend for this recipe.

TIP: Georgia shared an amazing tip with me during our pilaf cooking morning: Lemons can be frozen whole! I’d never heard of this before. Lemon are used abundantly in Greek cooking, so when she sees a good deal on lemons she buys lots of them, and rather than worry about using them all up before they go bad, she places them in the freezer—not bagged, where ever they fit it. She showed me one of her previously frozen lemons and it looked just like a fresh one.

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