Like the rest of the internet, I lost my damn mind when Nigella Lawson posted a photo of perfectly golden roast chicken nestled in soupy, carrot-flecked orzo on Instagram at the end of February.
To be clear, there is nothing radical about chicken cooked with orzo – the Greeks have been doing it for aeons. While the image was initially ended as a casual, off-the-cuff home-cooking shot, Lawson received so many requests for the recipe that she posted it just a few days later (combined, the two posts have netted upwards of 72,000 likes).
Viral recipes are a curious phenomenon (and one that Alison Roman appears to have mastered, between those cookies and that chickpea stew) - particularly, particularly because the dishes that capture popular attention are often paradoxically simple and nostalgia-infused. I can’t quite explain why, amongst the hundreds of food images I scroll past each day, Nigella’s chicken lodged in my brain, but lodge it did. There is something to its buoyantly bronzed breast, and the two-in-one ur-comfort of oven-baked pasta and roast chicken.
I have made several tweaks to Nigella’s recipe (swapping leeks for onion, adding feta and pine nuts, and using stock in place of water), but it’s not an exaggeration to say that hers is the best chicken dish I’ve had all year. It is genius, the way that the pasta soaks up the bird’s broth and oils, its very essence. Make it for dinner parties. Make it for special occasions. Make it when you feel sad. Make it when you’re happy. Just make it.
In the way that this dish is an instant soul- and crowd-pleasing classic, so is Saison Dupont. This is an unimpeachable beer: it is so perfectly poised, with its light sweetness, finishing bitterness, fluffy head and restrained esters. Saisons are a classically food- friendly style, but I find they do particularly well with chicken dishes. Here, the two are seamless, and both ludicrously joyful.
“This is a simple recipe that brings profound pleasure,” Lawson says. Right she is, and that’s even truer with this beer alongside.
Oven-Cooked Chicken and Orzo
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
1 small chicken (approximately 1.4kg/3lbs)
2-3 tablespoons fine sea salt, divided, plus additional
2 large carrots
1 large onion
1 head garlic
4 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon crushed chillis
600ml (2 ½ cups) chicken stock (plus additional, if needed)
250g (9oz) orzo
100g (3 ½oz) toasted pine nuts
200g (7oz) feta
Small handful parsley, torn
1. Roughly 1 hour before you plan to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge. Season inside and out with 1.5-2 tablespoons of sea salt (depending on your salt tolerance). Set aside and leave on the counter to warm slightly. (Note: you can also season the chicken several hours in advance, or even the night before, for additional flavour and tenderness. The further in advance you season it, the less salt you should use.)
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) – you’ll need a large Dutch oven for this dish, preferably cast-iron or enamel. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Roughly chop the carrots and onion. Separate the garlic cloves and peel, but leave whole. Roughly chop the oregano.
3. Place the Dutch oven on the hob (stove) over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot but not smoking, add the carrots, onion, and garlic, and season with the additional tablespoon of salt (you can halve this if you’re watching your salt intake or prefer less salted food), plus lots of freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3–5 minutes, or until slightly softened and the onions and garlic have lost their raw aroma. Add the oregano and crushed chillis, and cook for an additional minute, or until fragrant. Remove from the heat and transfer the vegetables to a plate.
4. Using a microplane, grate the two lemons, setting the zest aside. Halve and squeeze the juice into a separate bowl. Then, tuck the squeezed lemon halves into the chicken’s cavity, which will further perfume it as it cooks.
4. Return the pot to the hob and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Turn the heat to high; once very hot, add the chicken, breast-side down. Sear for 2–3 minutes, or until its breast skin turns crisp and golden-brown. Then, flip the chicken so it’s breast-side up.
5. Return the vegetables to the pot, being careful to place them around the chicken rather than on top of it. Pour in the chicken stock; it should come most of the way up the bird, but should not cover its breast (you may need additional broth, depending on the size and shape of your pot). Add the reserved lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Once boiling, cover with the lid and transfer to your preheated oven.
6. Cook the chicken for approximately 1 hour–1 hour 15 minutes. Carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Pour the orzo around the chicken, using a spoon to ensure the pasta is fully submerged; add a bit of additional broth if needed. Taste the broth and add a pinch of additional salt, if needed. Cover the pot and return to the oven for 30 minutes.
7. After 30 minutes, remove from the oven and take off the lid: the orzo should be fully cooked, and most of the broth absorbed. Using a spoon, gently stir the orzo without dislodging the chicken. Add the pine nuts to the orzo and stir through before topping with crumbled feta. Return the pot, this time without a lid, to the oven for 5 additional minutes, until the feta has softened and begun to melt. Remove from the oven.
8. Bring the chicken to the table in the pot, so everyone can see how beautiful it is, before heading back to the kitchen. To serve, gently transfer the chicken to a cutting board with a large spatula (its meat will be falling off the bone). Using two forks (or your hands, if immune to heat), roughly shred the chicken and return to the pot; discard the skin, bones and any gristle, as well as the lemon halves inside the chicken. Mix through, and garnish with the parsley before serving.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table, is out now, available through our online shop or through good booksellers and online retailers. Saison Dupont is a year-round staple at Hop Burns & Black - you definitely want to stock up on this regularly,