Chicken with Orzo

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By Emily Paster

My kids — like many kids, I suspect — prefer boneless chicken. Sure, they like to pick up a drumstick now and then, but in general, they prefer bite-sized morsels of chicken that they can spear with their forks over a whole chicken breast that they then have to ask us to cut for them. What this means for me is that I often roast bone-in chicken breasts and then shred the meat and add it to my dishes. I prefer this method over buying boneless chicken breasts for a few reasons:

  1. Bone-in chicken breasts cost less per pound than boneless.
  2. Roasted bone-in chicken breasts are more flavorful than baked or poached boneless breasts.
  3. I can freeze the leftover bones and save them to make chicken stock. That's really the way to get the most for your money!

It may seem like more work to roast whole chicken breasts and then take off the meat, but I don't see it that way. One of the benefits to my method is that it spreads out the work and allows for advance preparation. I can roast a couple of split chicken breasts early in the day, or even the night before, and then have meat ready to throw into a stew or add to a pasta dish come dinner time. You could even roast four or five breasts on Sunday, shred the meat and have it in your fridge all week long to make dinner prep that much easier. This method works just as well for chicken thighs — it's just that we prefer white meat at my house.

To roast bone-in, split chicken breasts, preheat the oven to 400 and line a baking sheet with a Silpat liner or aluminum foil — this will make clean-up quicker. Rub the breasts with a little olive oil and season them with salt and pepper and then place them on the baking sheet. Roast for 35-40 minutes until cooked through. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard it. Take the meat off the bones with a small knife or your fingers and shred it into pieces. Wrap the bones in foil or place them in a plastic freezer bag and pop them in the freezer — they can stay there until you have a chance to make chicken stock. Refrigerate the meat until you are ready to use it.

Chicken with Orzo is an example of the kind of dish that I can make with cooked, shredded chicken. It's a simple, one-dish meal for busy weeknights. It's the kind of food that I imagine Nigella Lawson would call "a nursery supper." It certainly appeals to kid palates, but I enjoy it as well as comfort food. Orzo, for those who aren't familiar with it, is a versatile, rice-shaped pasta. It works well under braised meats, to soak up a tasty sauce, but it can also be served room temperature as a pasta salad in warmer weather. My mother makes a very simple orzo salad in the summer with nothing more than toasted pine nuts, olive oil, and lots of fresh basil. We use orzo quite a bit because my husband prefers it to couscous. (I'm not sure why.) It can be oddly hard to find in the grocery store for such a basic ingredient. I will confess to liking the Giada deLaurentis brand sold at Target.

Chicken with Orzo
I like shallots for this recipe because they melt into the sauce in a way that onion does not and then my kids don't say in horror, "What's this? Onion?"

2 TB olive oil
1 cup minced shallots
1 tsp. each dried thyme and dried oregano
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
1 TB sugar
6 cups chicken broth
12 oz. orzo
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan (optional)
Chopped scallion (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Sauté the shallots over low heat until softened, but not browned, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper, thyme and oregano and sauté a few additional minutes until fragrant. Add the tomatoes with their juice, crushing the tomatoes with your hands or the back of a spoon. Add the sugar and bring sauce to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer until thickened about ten minutes. Add chicken broth and return to a boil. When the liquid is boiling add the orzo. Boil gently until the orzo is tender and most of the liquid absorbed, about ten minutes. Stir frequently so that the orzo does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the cooked chicken and heat through. Adjust seasonings as necessary. To serve, garnish with chopped scallion or grated Parmesan.


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