Tender boneless chicken thighs and flavorful orzo braised with fragrant Moroccan spices and topped with olives, lemon and fresh parsley. All you need is one pan and 30 minutes and you’ve got yourself one fabulous, flavorful family dinner.
One pot recipes are a miracle of cookery, saving time both during cooking and the dishwashing after the fact. This one is particularly flavor-packed, pairing sultry saffron with turmeric, paprika, ginger and even a hint of cinnamon with bright and tangy olives and a hint of lemon.
One pan recipes are a thing of beauty. You don’t need a separate pot or pan to cook the side dish, rather, it’s all cooked together in a single pan on a single burner with a single spoon.
Not only do you have less dishes to do, but it’s also that much more flavorful since the starch (orzo in this case) absorbs all the delicious flavors from the chicken as it cooks.
It’s like flavor recycling.
That said, however, not all combinations work in a one pot situation.
I recall trying one of those one pot pasta kind of recipes, from a very well known food personality, where you cook the spaghetti and the tomato sauce and garlic and all that in a single pot… brilliant in concept, but not so much in execution. The texture of the final dish just didn’t quite work for me. With pasta like spaghetti if you lose the al-dente-ness of the pasta, it just tastes like mush.
Orzo seems to be a bit more practical in this kind of situation, however.
Ideally you want to time it so that the orzo is al-dente at the same time that the chicken is cooked through (poke it with an instant read thermometer, please, just to be sure).
For us, that was about 9 minutes on the dog. If you are using particularly large boneless thighs or bone-in thighs (which you can certainly do), I recommend cooking them for a few minutes longer in the beginning, so that they’ll be completely cooked through after 9 minutes in the pan with the orzo.
If anything, it’s better to overcook the chicken in this case rather than overcooking the orzo, since all the braising liquid surrounding the chicken will keep it extra moist even if it goes over a few degrees.
The final result doesn’t really resemble either recipe, but hey, I believe in giving credit where credit is due.
We attempted a version of this recipe using preserved lemons, adding thin ribbons of peel to the orzo at the end.
Tell me, preserved lemon lovers, are they really supposed to taste like lysol? I’m not sure what I was expecting (something more like marmalade I guess?) but I couldn’t get past the overwhelming flavor of disinfectant. It wasn’t enjoyable at all, and pretty much ruined the entire dish for us. Maybe we got a bad jar or something?
Needless to say, we opted for fresh lemon in this recipe instead, just a bit of zest and juice to give the final dish a hint of tangy lemon without any undesirable undertones of cleaning products.
That said, as with most things, I do think homemade preserved lemons would be an entirely different story (one of these days I’ll try making my own). So if you’re lucky enough to have some on hand, feel free to chop up a tablespoon or two of the peel and fold it in at the end in place of the lemon zest.
One Pan Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Orzo
This quick & easy weeknight dinner recipe features chicken thighs and orzo braised in flavorful Moroccan spices and topped with olives, lemon and fresh parsley.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron, crushed
- 2/3 cup orzo
- 1 1/3 cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup mixed pitted olives, sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for topping
- Generously salt and pepper both sides of chicken thighs.
- Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmery. Arrange thighs, smooth side down, in preheated skillet (if you are using a smaller pan or cooking more than 5 or 6 thighs, you might want to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan). Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned; flip and cook other side for another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Return skillet to medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until fragrant and starting to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes, scraping up any leftover brown bits from the chicken as well. Add spices and stir until onions are fully coated with spices.
- Add orzo and stir to coat.
- Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Place chicken thighs back in the skillet in a single layer, nestling them down into the orzo.
- Continue to cook, stirring occasionally so orzo doesn’t stick to the bottom, about 8 to 10 minutes or until orzo is aldente and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the largest thigh reads 165 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice, lemon zest and olives and remove from heat. Spoon into serving dishes and served warm topped with a sprinkle of parsley and slivered almonds, if desired.