Nigella Lawson's Chicken in a Pot with Lemon and Orzo

Yet another of Nigella Lawson's clever re-inventions of the classic roast chicken, this Chicken in a Pot with Lemon and Orzo is an all-in-one crowd-pleaser.

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Introduction

This is not exactly the same as perhaps the most precious recipe in my reper-toire, My Mother’s Praised Chicken, which found a home in my eighth book, Kitchen, but it owes a lot to it. A family favourite, it’s a simple one-pot dish which brings comfort and joy, and it is my pleasure to share that with you.

It’s not in the spirit of things to be utterly specific with this kind of cooking: if you’re feeding small children, for example, you may not want to add the chilli flakes. Similarly, you may want to use just one lemon, rather than the two I like. Your chicken may weigh more or less: the ones I get tend to be between 1.5kg and 1.7kg. And although I have specified the casserole I always use, you obviously will use the one you have, which will make a difference to how quickly everything cooks, how much evaporation there will be, and so on.

Don’t let these things trouble you unduly; this is a very forgiving dish. It doesn’t rely on precision timing: the chicken, leeks and carrots are meant to be soft, and I even like it when the orzo is cooked far beyond the timing speci-fied on the packet. It’s also open to variation, owing to what’s in your kitchen. You can, for example, replace the orzo with rice if you prefer, although you need to know that it will be slightly puddingy cooked this way; I don’t mean this disparagingly, but to indicate the soft, swollen texture. Barley works well, too, though will need to go in sooner, or you can use ditalini or any other small pasta you want. If you prefer to use dried thyme in place of the dried tarragon, by all means do; I also like it with dried mint. I could go on, but there is no need to add complications: this is a simple recipe that brings deep contentment.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 chicken (approx. 1.5kg)
3 fat cloves of garlic
2 medium carrots (approx. 300g)
2 medium leeks (approx. 400g trimmed weight, or approx. 600g if you’re buying them untrimmed)
1 x 15ml tbsp olive oil
2 lemons
2 tsp dried tarragon (or dried thyme)
2 tsp sea salt flakes (or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt)
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
1.5 litres cold water
300g orzo pasta
6 x 15ml tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more to serve
freshly grated Parmesan, to serve

Instructions

 1. Untruss the chicken, if it comes trussed, and remove all the string. If time allows, let it stand out on a board for 40 minutes or so to let the chill come off it. Heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC Fan.

2. Peel the garlic cloves, and peel and cut the carrots into three lengths across, and then into batons. Wash the leeks to remove any mud, if needed, and cut into approx. 2½cm rounds.

3. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based casserole with a tightly fitting lid; I use an enamelled cast-iron oval casserole 29cm long, in which the chicken fits neatly, leaving just a small space all around it to fit the vegetables later. Place the chicken in the hot oil breast-side down to colour the skin; I do this over high heat for 3–5 minutes, or until the skin is richly golden. Then turn the chicken the right way up.

4. Take the pan off the heat and, aiming for the space around the chicken, finely grate in the zest from the 2 lemons, then grate or mince in the garlic (obviously some can end up on the chicken itself), add the dried tarragon (or thyme) and give a quick stir into the oil as best you can.

5. Scatter the vegetables around the chicken, followed by the salt and chilli flakes (if using), and squeeze in the juice from your zested lemons.

6. Pour in the cold water – covering all but the very top of the breast –and put back on high heat, then bring the pot to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, clamp on the lid and carefully transfer to the oven to cook for 1¼ hours, though check to make sure the chicken is all but cooked through and the carrots soft.

7. Take the pot out of the oven, and add the orzo all around the chicken, and push it under the liquid, giving something as approximating a stir as you can manage in the restricted space. Put the lid back on, and return the casserole to the oven for another 15 minutes, by which time the orzo should be soft and swollen.

8. Let the casserole stand, uncovered, out of the oven for 15 minutes before serving. The orzo will continue to soak up the broth as it stands.

9. While you’re waiting, chop the parsley. Stir in 4 tablespoons, and then sprinkle over a little more. You could shred the chicken now, but it looks so wonderful in its pot I like to bring it to the table whole.

10. Place a dish by the casserole, and then pull the chicken gently apart with a couple of forks, removing any bones and skin that come loose to the dish. (For me, these bits are a particular treat: I live for the cartilage.) I find it easiest to do this while the chicken’s still in the pot but, if you prefer, you can try and remove it to a carving board; go carefully as it’s likely to fall to pieces a bit as you do so. Stir the chicken and orzo again and ladle into bowls, sprinkling with parsley as you go. You may also want to offer Parmesan to grate over: I prefer it without, but there is a strong pro-Parmesan contingent in my house.

Store - Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to 3 days. Reheat in microwave or saucepan over medium heat, stirring and adding extra water if needed, until piping hot. Pasta will soften on reheating.

Freeze - Freeze leftovers in airtight container for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in fridge. Reheat as above.

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