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Chicken In A Pot with Lemon and Orzo

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Introduction

This is a dish, a family favourite, that I cooked moreorless straight after I’d got off the plane after two months on the road, to signal and celebrate that I was truly home. It’s a simple one pot dish that brings comfort and joy, and it is my pleasure to share that with you.

It’s so hard to be utterly precise and specific with this kind of cooking: if you’re feeding small children, for example, you may not want to add the chilli flakes. Similarly, you may want to use just one lemon, rather than the two I like. Your chicken may weigh more or less: the ones I get tend to vary between 1.5kg and 1.7kg / 3½lb and 3¾lbs. And although I have specified the casserole I have used, and always use, you obviously will use the one you have, which will make a difference to how quickly everything cooks, how much evaporation there will be, and so on.

Don’t let these things trouble you unduly: this is a simple recipe that brings profound pleasure.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

This is a dish, a family favourite, that I cooked moreorless straight after I’d got off the plane after two months on the road, to signal and celebrate that I was truly home. It’s a simple one pot dish that brings comfort and joy, and it is my pleasure to share that with you.

It’s so hard to be utterly precise and specific with this kind of cooking: if you’re feeding small children, for example, you may not want to add the chilli flakes. Similarly, you may want to use just one lemon, rather than the two I like. Your chicken may weigh more or less: the ones I get tend to vary between 1.5kg and 1.7kg / 3½lb and 3¾lbs. And although I have specified the casserole I have used, and always use, you obviously will use the one you have, which will make a difference to how quickly everything cooks, how much evaporation there will be, and so on.

Don’t let these things trouble you unduly: this is a simple recipe that brings profound pleasure.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

Ingredients

Serves: 4-6

Metric Cups
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (approx. 1.5kg or bigger) chicken (preferably free-range and organic)
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 2 medium to large carrots (approx. 350-400g / 12-14oz total weight)
  • 2 medium to large leeks (approx. 400g / 14oz total trimmed weight)
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or 1 teaspoon fine flowing salt
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 1½ litres cold water in a measuring jug
  • 300 grams orzo pasta
  • 1 bunch flatleaf parsley to give 6 tablespoons finely chopped leaves, plus more to serve
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (approx. 3½lb or bigger) chicken (preferably free-range and organic)
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 2 medium to large carrots (approx. 350-400g / 12-14oz total weight)
  • 2 medium to large leeks (approx. 400g / 14oz total trimmed weight)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon fine flowing salt
  • ½ teaspoon chile flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 6¼ cups cold water in a measuring jug
  • 1¾ cups orzo pasta
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley to give 6 tablespoons finely chopped leaves, plus more to serve

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/350°F. Untruss the chicken, if it comes trussed, and remove all the string. Prepare the vegetables: peel and cut the carrots into batons; cut the trimmed leeks into smallish rounds, approx. 1.5-2.5cm / ¾-1 inch.
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based casserole/ Dutch oven with a tightly fitting lid. I use an enamelled cast iron oval casserole 29cm 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 colour the skin; I do this over high heat for about 3 minutes, until the skin is richly golden. (If you’re not using a heavy based casserole, you will need the heat lower.) Then turn the chicken the right way up.
  3. Turn down the heat, or take the pan off the heat completely, and aiming for the space around the chicken, add the lemon zest and minced garlic (obviously some can end up on the chicken itself) and give it a quick stir into the oil as best you can.
  4. Scatter in the prepared vegetables around the chicken, followed by the salt, chilli flakes (if using) and dried tarragon.
  5. Pour in the cold water, but just add 1.25 litres / 5 cups first, and then, gradually, pour in the remaining water until the liquid comes up about two thirds of the leg of the chicken, leaving the golden breast clearly untouched by a small margin. Now add the lemon juice.
  6. Turn up the heat and bring the pot to a boil, leaving it uncovered. Poke the vegetables down with a fork if they bob up too much.
  7. Once boiling clamp on the lid and put into the preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.
  8. Take the pot out of the oven and stir in the orzo, around the edges of the chicken, and then put the lid on again, and put the casserole back in the oven for another 30 minutes, by which time the orzo should be soft and swollen.
  9. Take out of the oven and remove the lid, then let it stand for 15 minutes, giving the orzo a bit of a stir to loosen any that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. The orzo will continue to soak up some of the broth as it stands.
  10. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the freshly chopped parsley, and then sprinkle over the remaining 2 tablespoons, and put more on the table to serve alongside. You could add the parsley once you’ve shredded the chicken, but it looks so wonderful in its pot, I love to bring to the table whole.
  11. To serve, put a small dish by the casserole, then strip off the meat from the chicken, removing the skin and bones 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 it you prefer you can try and remove it to a carving board; go carefully as it’s likely to fall to pieces a bit as you do so. Stir the meat and orzo again before serving, adding more parsley as you do so, or let grateful eaters add their own as they wish. You may also want to offer parmesan to grate over: I prefer it without it, but there is a strong pro-parmesan contingent in my house.
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/350°F. Untruss the chicken, if it comes trussed, and remove all the string. Prepare the vegetables: peel and cut the carrots into batons; cut the trimmed leeks into smallish rounds, approx. 1.5-2.5cm / ¾-1 inch.
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based casserole/ Dutch oven with a tightly fitting lid. I use an enamelled cast iron oval casserole 29cm 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 colour the skin; I do this over high heat for about 3 minutes, until the skin is richly golden. (If you’re not using a heavy based casserole, you will need the heat lower.) Then turn the chicken the right way up.
  3. Turn down the heat, or take the pan off the heat completely, and aiming for the space around the chicken, add the lemon zest and minced garlic (obviously some can end up on the chicken itself) and give it a quick stir into the oil as best you can.
  4. Scatter in the prepared vegetables around the chicken, followed by the salt, chile flakes (if using) and dried tarragon.
  5. Pour in the cold water, but just add 1.25 litres / 5 cups first, and then, gradually, pour in the remaining water until the liquid comes up about two thirds of the leg of the chicken, leaving the golden breast clearly untouched by a small margin. Now add the lemon juice.
  6. Turn up the heat and bring the pot to a boil, leaving it uncovered. Poke the vegetables down with a fork if they bob up too much.
  7. Once boiling clamp on the lid and put into the preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.
  8. Take the pot out of the oven and stir in the orzo, around the edges of the chicken, and then put the lid on again, and put the casserole back in the oven for another 30 minutes, by which time the orzo should be soft and swollen.
  9. Take out of the oven and remove the lid, then let it stand for 15 minutes, giving the orzo a bit of a stir to loosen any that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. The orzo will continue to soak up some of the broth as it stands.
  10. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the freshly chopped parsley, and then sprinkle over the remaining 2 tablespoons, and put more on the table to serve alongside. You could add the parsley once you’ve shredded the chicken, but it looks so wonderful in its pot, I love to bring to the table whole.
  11. To serve, put a small dish by the casserole, then strip off the meat from the chicken, removing the skin and bones 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 it you prefer you can try and remove it to a carving board; go carefully as it’s likely to fall to pieces a bit as you do so. Stir the meat and orzo again before serving, adding more parsley as you do so, or let grateful eaters add their own as they wish. You may also want to offer parmesan to grate over: I prefer it without it, but there is a strong pro-parmesan contingent in my house.

Tell us what you think

What 24 Others have said

  • I made this with a whole cut-up chicken and it came out beautifully! I used less water - maybe 4 cups total. The dish cooked a little faster too; about 50 minutes instead of 1 hr 15. There was plenty of liquid for the orzo though and it was a little easier to pick out the bones. Next time I may try dill instead of tarragon - my husband commented that it's like chicken noodle soup but as a stew, and I think that describes it perfectly.

    Posted by ahwiggins18 on 19th January 2021
  • Made this tonight and it was so good! I cannot find Orzo where I live so I substituted for Pearl Barley. Also, due to Covid I didn’t want to head to the supermarket just for leeks so I substituted them for 1 large onion. Absolutely delicious! Even my fussy fiancé loved it.

    Posted by Narna_ on 18th January 2021
  • This was spectacular. Thought I had lemons and didn't, but it was fine with limes instead. Only issue is that the chicken REALLY fell apart so it was pretty impossible to get out a lot of the smaller bones and such before serving, so you've got to eat a little carefully. (I was hoping to pull the whole thing out to do it all on a plate but it fell apart when I was trying.)

    Posted by ksalper on 18th January 2021
  • Wow! Just wow! I went and got a cast iron casserole dish just to cook this. I did however change the whole chicken to chicken breasts as we still have leftovers from Christmas/Boxing Day and didn't want to add anymore leftovers. I must say it worked perfectly, all I had to do was change the cooking time and quantities of ingredients.

    If people are looking to cook with just chicken breast: Brown off the chicken breast in the casserole pan in a little oil. Add the garlic, lemon zest, stir then add the vegetables. I added about 1/4 tsp of the chilli flakes (which I could increase - we don't like too spicy but feel we could have more) instead of using tarragon I used Thyme which I just eye balled. Then I add 1/2 litre of chicken stock and 1/2 a lemon juice. I bought up to the boil of the stove, clamped on the lid and put it in the oven at 180 c. I put a timer on for 10 minutes (just so I could check and give a stir) I cooked for a further 15 minutes and then shredded the chicken!

    I took the advice and placed Parmesan cheese on the table and I must say it added a lovely "tang". Definitely keeping this recipe in mind!

    Posted by Katydelday on 29th December 2020
  • I just made this for some gluten free guests and substituted rice for the orzo. I’ve made it before with the orzo and do prefer it’s lighter texture, but the rice substitute was perfect for the evening. The rice took about 5 minutes less than the orzo outlined in the directions. Our guests really appreciated having such a flavorsome meal. It really is as easy to make as many others have commented here. I think there is enough here for more than the 6-8 people suggested in the recipe.

    Posted by Rossbeigh on 21st December 2020
  • This couldn't have been better. The chicken was so tender, and the orzo and vegetables sang with lemon, chili, and herbs. The fact that you just let it do its thing in the oven makes it even better. A true one pot wonder!

    Posted by joshv41680 on 10th December 2020
  • Hello and much love from deep west Texas! The moment I saw this recipe I knew it was destined to be in my table this evening. I’m both intrigued and excited by the flavor profile (lemon + tarragon and chili? Yes please!) You are held as a sacred deity in my home, and I cannot thank you enough for the decades of joy, cheek, and recipes, many of which have become traditions and favorites at my table. Cannot wait to add yet another dish to the pantheon!

    Posted by JonasB on 29th November 2020
  • I wasn't sure at first how the different herb and veg flavours would play out, but this turned out really delicious. It was fresh, flavourful, and hearty as well! One I would make again!

    Posted by Marbylog on 11th February 2020
  • I tried this today, didn't have orzo so I used pearl barley. It was delicious so tender, will definitely go in my book of favourite which my kids and I cooks from. Thank you

    Posted by Terishkevic on 9th February 2020
  • Oh my goodness! Just tried this last week and it was sooooo good! Thanks Nigella this will definitely go on the list of yummy meals to make.

    Posted by DebbieDiva on 4th February 2020
  • Easy peasy and delicious. I didn't have a suitable pot to do this in, so used the slow cooker instead as it was the perfect size (1 hour on high, then 4 hours on low). Instead of just water, I used chicken stock, but followed everything else in the recipe. Perfect succulent chicken that just falls away from the bone.

    Posted by Pgmooney on 27th January 2020
  • This is really great - and it's a wonderful feeling seeing this in the oven and knowing good things are coming! While at first I thought two lemons might have been too much, the lemon flavour seemed to mute a little as this cooled. You only have to stir this at the end for the chicken to start coming off the bones. A fabulous recipe and very little effort for much reward.

    Posted by peej on 6th January 2020
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