Lean Luxury

By Angela Denstad Stigeler

January just seems to beg for rich, comforting foods, but it’s too soon to lose those resolutions before the month is out. If only there was a way to make a warm, rich, flavorful meal, but keep it lean and low-cost as well. This take on chicken and rice does exactly that, blending the humble staple grain with the world’s most costly spice. In fact, mixing poor rice with regal saffron brings out the best in them both. The distribution of saffron—whether a pinch or a teaspoonful—is for you to decide.

This is also a way to make inexpensive chicken thighs moist and tender, without rendering a lot of their fat into the dish. If your family prefers the pricier white meat, you can skip the browning and just nestle the meat into the whole concoction, letting it simmer on the stove. The richness of olives and the sweet pimientos add yet more flavorful indulgence while still in keeping with the concept of comfort on a budget, and on a diet as well.

As much of the cooking time of the one-dish wonder specifically instructs you to not so much as lift a spoon, you’ll find a little luxury of time hidden in this recipe, too. Use this however you like while your healthy, hearty meal cooks itself.


Chicken and Saffron Rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 chicken legs, separated or 2 chicken breasts, skin removed

2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (2 tablespoons)

1 ½ cups Arborio or other short-grain rice

3 bay leaves

1 cup peeled, diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)

1 ½ cups alcaparrado olive relish OR 1 cup green olives with pimientos and ½ cup capers

1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon saffron threads

2 ½ cups water


Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot. Add the chicken pieces in one layer and sauté over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions and garlic to the drippings in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes. Add the rice and mix well. Stir in the bay leaves, tomatoes, olives and capers, jalapeno (if using), salt and saffron. Add the water and mix well.

Return the browned chicken pieces to the skillet, embedding them into the mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes without stirring. Check to see that the rice is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed. When ready, slice the chicken if necessary and serve with the rice.


Recipe adapted from Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin