Monday, September 1, 2008

Easy Lemon Chicken "Risotto"

Risotto is creamy, slow-cooked Italian rice dish made from special types of rice (usually arborio) that are short grained and have a high starch content that releases as the rice cooks, making a wonderfully warm and comforting dish. However, the time that risotto takes to cook -- every ingredient must be pre-chopped so it can be thrown in without taking away from the constant stirring required to make risotto cook completely and evenly -- means that it is not on most home menus, or at least not often.

I came up with a cheater way to make an almost risotto dish that has a spark of lemon flavor contrasted with creamy butter and Parmesan cheese. What's the cheat? Rice A Roni! Yes, the San Francisco treat. Any other rice pilaf type dish will work too -- I really like Publix brand rice pilaf -- as long as it has the orzo pasta or vermicelli in it for a different texture than rice alone.

Chicken breast, marinated in lemon juice and black pepper, adds a real punch, with no additional salt or fat, to the rice mix. The small amount of parmesan cheese added at the end makes it really creamy and softens the sharp edge of the lemon.

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (bottled is fine!)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 packages Chicken Rice-A-Roni or other rice/pasta mix
  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
  • Water according to package directions for rice/pasta mix
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated (NOT shredded!) parmesan cheese

Marinate chicken in lemon juice and pepper for at least 20 minutes in plastic bag or dish or a glass dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter or margarine in a large skillet or spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. When hot, add chicken to skillet. Use a slotted spoon to remove chicken from marinade and leave lemon juice behind. Brown chicken on all sides and remove from pan along with all juices.

Heat another two tablespoons butter or margarine in pan and brown rice and pasta mix according to package directions. Add water called for on the package directions as well as lemon juice reserved from marinating the chicken. Add chicken and juices back into the pan; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes, test rice for doneness. If needed, add a little more water and continue cooking. When rice is done but creamy, remove heat and add Parmesan cheese. Let stand five minutes, covered, and serve.

Variations:
  • Halfway through cooking add 1 cup frozen green peas and 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced.
  • Add 2 cups frozen broccoli and 1/2 cup slivered almonds halfway through cooking time.
  • Add 1 cup sliced mushrooms with chicken; reduce cooking liquid by 2 tablespoons.

2 comments:

Tracy said...

I could make this using faux-chicken for a very fine vegetarian meal. Keep 'em comin'.

Rob said...

Great recipe. I just had an underwhelming ricearoni experience the other night, I'm definitely going to try this out!

-DL