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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

What makes chicken and rice even better? A little bite.



Sheet pan turmeric chicken with crispy rice, in New York on Jan 9. 2024. Cooking rice on a sheet pan lets it crisp up gloriously, adding crunch to this classic weeknight pairing. Food styled by Monica Pierini. (Linda Xiao/The New York Times)

By Melissa Clark


My first attempt at crunchy rice was not entirely on purpose. I was a young, multitasking cook with a pot of rice left on low heat until ... wait, was something about to burn?


I salvaged what tender grains I could and was about to plunge the pot and its residual crust into a sink of soapy water, when I caught a whiff of something caramelized and toasty. I dislodged a shard of crust with a butter knife to sample, then went back, sprinkling the next with salt. Before I knew it, I was full, and the pot was clean.


By now, I’ve learned that this layer of crunchy, golden rice that can form at the bottom of the pot is rightly prized across cultures, be it Persian tahdig, Korean nurungji or Spanish socarrat, to name just a few. Achieving the ideal layer of crisp rice is the kind of culinary feat that takes long practice — or, occasionally — dumb luck.


Or you could use this simple hack: Spread cooked, oiled rice on a sheet pan and bake it at high heat. The large surface area of the sheet pan will dry the rice before it browns, making it especially crunchy, and the oven’s steady, indirect heat helps keep the rice from burning — a welcome relief for us multitasking cooks.


For this technique, I particularly adore the textural contrast of short-grain rice, because while the plump, starchy grains get nicely crisp where they meet the bottom and edges of the pan, the top stays softer and chewy. But long-grain rice, which takes on a consistently crunchy texture, also works.


Since you have a sheet pan of rice in the oven, you may as well put some protein on top to make it a meal. For this recipe, I slather bone-in chicken legs with a pungent mix of turmeric, ginger and garlic, and nestle them into a pan of rice flecked with scallion for sweetness. The spiced chicken fat renders and coats the rice as it roasts. Then, at the very end, I dab everything with more of the turmeric-ginger mixture, adding yet another dimension of fragrance and verve.


There are, of course, no shortcuts to the nuanced flavors of tahdig or nurungji or socarrat, but this dish makes for a deliciously easy one-pan meal that will come out right every time, without either practice or luck.



Sheet-pan turmeric chicken and crispy rice


A layer of crunchy, golden rice at the bottom of a pan is revered across many cultures, be it a Persian tahdig, Korean nurungji or Spanish socarrat, and you can get a similar result by baking oiled rice at high heat on a sheet pan. Here, bone-in chicken legs are coated in a mix of turmeric, ginger and garlic and nestled into a pan of scallion-flecked short-grain rice. As it all roasts, the spiced chicken fat seasons the rice, which turns especially crisp where it meets the edges and bottom of the pan while staying soft and chewy on top. Dabbed with more turmeric-ginger mixture at the end, it’s a richly flavored and textured chicken and rice dish all made in one pan.



Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 50 minutes



Ingredients:


1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving

6 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced

2 tablespoons fresh ginger (from 1 2-inch piece), finely grated or minced

3 teaspoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal or use 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, such as Morton), more as needed

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks

5 cups cooked short-grain rice (such as sushi rice, see tip)

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems



Preparation:


1. Place sheet pan on middle rack in oven and heat oven to 450 degrees.

2. While the oven is heating, marinate the chicken. In a large bowl, combine lemon juice, garlic, ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, turmeric, coriander and pepper, and mix well. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the turmeric-ginger mixture to a small bowl and set aside for serving. To the large bowl, add chicken and toss until the pieces are well coated; let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

3. While the chicken is marinating, toss the cooked rice with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, scallion whites and 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (the best way to do this is with clean hands). Add a little more oil if needed to fully coat the rice so that it crisps up in the oven.

4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the chicken pieces, tossing well to coat.

5. Use a large spoon to carefully spread the rice out on the hot sheet pan, then make divots in the rice for the chicken, making sure the sheet pan is exposed. Place chicken, skin side up, in the divots touching the pan. Drizzle the rice and chicken with a little more extra-virgin olive oil.

6. Roast until the chicken is deeply browned on top, cooked through and the rice is crisp at the edges, 40 to 50 minutes.

7. Stir a little more lemon juice and olive oil into the reserved turmeric-ginger mixture to thin it out. Use a spoon to dab or drizzle it onto the rice (not the chicken). Stir up the rice on the baking sheet, so the crisp parts get mixed into the soft part of the rice, and the turmeric mixture gets distributed. (Taste rice and add a little more oil, lemon juice and salt if necessary; rice can take a lot of seasoning.) Top everything with scallion greens and chopped fresh cilantro, and serve.


Tip: If you want to substitute long-grain rice, watch it carefully; it browns (and can dry out) more quickly than plumper grains of short-grain rice.

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