Nigella’s Chicken In A Pot with Lemon and Orzo

Cook a whole chicken in a big pot with veggies and orzo for an easy, one-pot meal.
Cook a whole chicken in a big pot with veggies and orzo for an easy, one-pot meal.

This is a dish that serves up a warm, enveloping hug — which is just what you want at this time of year when the winds kick up, the clouds turn more ominous, and the skies dim to black much too soon.

But then again, Nigella Lawson always seems to know what we crave, no matter what time of year or occasion.

Her “Chicken In A Pot With Lemons and Orzo” is no exception.

It’s from her newest cookbook, “Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories” (Ecco), of which I received a review copy.

If you are especially drawn to Lawson’s personable and downright sensual voice, then you will especially love this book. That’s because each of the recipes is preceded by a page-long introduction in which Lawson explains the dish, often including what inspired it, whether it can be scaled down, and what draws her to certain ingredients used in it. In other words, she makes the dish come to life so vividly that you’ll be hard pressed not to run to the kitchen to make it right then and there.

The book isn’t arranged in the conventional format of “Appetizers,” “Salads,” and “Entrees,” etc. Instead there are headings such as “A Is For Anchovy,” where you’ll find delights such as “Spaghetti with Chard, Chiles and Anchovies” and “Celery Root and Anchovy Gratin”; and chapters such as “A Loving Defense of Brown Food,” which includes recipes for “Marrowbone Meat Sauce” and “Beef Cheeks with Port and Chestnuts.”

“Chicken In A Pot With Lemon And Orzo” is from the chapter, “Much Depends On Dinner,” in which Lawson reflects on how cooking and eating are daily ways to find pleasure, even during a pandemic lock-down, especially when you can share it with others in some way. This chapter is all about the recipes she cooks for her own family on a regular basis.

This recipe title says it all: You are indeed cooking a whole chicken in one pot with lemon and orzo, which makes for complete ease of cooking and clean-up.

The whole chicken is essentially poached in water with aromatics that include carrots, leeks, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and dried tarragon. Once the chicken is nearly cooked through, you gently stir in the orzo to let it cook in the liquid.

The result is chicken so succulent and fall-apart-tender that you don’t have to do any carving. In fact, just push two forks into the pot to effortlessly tear up the meat into pieces to serve with the orzo.

This is the epitome of a comfort dish, almost as if chicken soup were turned into a chicken pasta stew instead.

Fall-apart tender chicken and orzo finished with plenty of Parmesan is just what you want when the weather turns cooler.
Fall-apart tender chicken and orzo finished with plenty of Parmesan is just what you want when the weather turns cooler.

Surprisingly, I found the dish a bit bland. What I think would help is seasoning the chicken with salt inside and out, which was not originally part of the recipe, but which I added below. I also upped the amount of dried tarragon from 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon.

Lawson says the Parmesan is optional for stirring into the orzo before serving. I think it’s a necessity to give the dish more oomph.

Enjoy a dish that’s as homey as it gets.

Chicken In A Pot With Lemon and Orzo

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 chicken (approximately 3 1/2 pounds)

4 teaspoons flaky sea salt or kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons fine sea salt), divided use

3 fat cloves of garlic

2 medium carrots (approximately 10 ounces)

2 medium leeks (approximately 5 cups sliced, white parts only)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 lemons

1 tablespoon dried tarragon (or dried thyme)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

6 cups cold water

1 1/2 cups orzo pasta

1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, plus more to serve

Freshly grated Parmesan, to serve

Untruss the chicken, if it comes trussed, and remove all the string. It time allows, let it stand out on a board for 40 minutes or so to let the chill come off it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using 2 teaspoons of the salt, season the chicken inside and out.

Peel the garlic cloves, and peel and cut the carrots into three lengths across, and then into sticks.

Wash the leeks to remove any mud, if needed, and cut into approximately 1-inch rounds.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based Dutch oven with a tightly fitting lid; I use an enameled cast-iron oval Dutch oven 12 inches 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 color the skin; I do this over high heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the skin is richly golden. Then turn the chicken right way up.

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.

Scatter the vegetables around the chicken, followed by the remaining 2 teaspoons salt and the red pepper flakes (if using), and squeeze in the juice from your zested lemons.

Pour in the cold water — covering all but the very top of the breast — and put back up 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 1 1/4 hours, though check to make sure the chicken is all but cooked through and the carrots soft.

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

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

While you’re waiting, chop the parsley. Stir in 1/4 cup, 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.

Place a dish by the Dutch oven, 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 cutting 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.

Adapted from “Cook, Eat, Repeat” by Nigella Lawson

Another Nigella Lawson Recipe to Enjoy: Spinach Baked with Ricotta and Nutmeg

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  • Tarragon currently being my favorite herb, I applaud your suggested increase in that ingredient. Might it also amp the flavor to increase the garlic, or would that conflict too much with the subtlety of the braised leeks? If still a bit bland, I’d be tempted to give it another squeeze of lemon when plating the portions. And leftovers turned into actual soup the next day or two…what’s not to like? This really does sound like comfort food at its finest 🙂

  • Hi Carroll: If you added a lot more chicken stock the next day and shredded the chicken meat, it would make for a very fine soup. And I love your idea about that final squeeze of fresh lemon juice just before serving. A fabulous finishing touch!

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