I consider myself blessed to have gone to Highland View Elementary School in Gulf County, Florida in the ’70s. The little pale green-painted cement block school, situated so perfectly across the street from beautiful St. Joe Bay, housed small classes of kids being led by teachers who seemed devoted to igniting a love of learning in their students. It was there that we learned about United States history, marine biology, writing, and even, to little avail, I’m afraid, the metric system.
The lunchroom in the cozy school was lined with four or five long rows of tables. There was a hardwood stage with floor-to-ceiling curtains on one end of the room. This is where our Thanksgiving play was held, during which we actually recited Psalm 100 as one of the features of the event. One year we performed for our peers on the stage a student-organized presentation of Grease, after the movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John came out and captured our imaginations with its exciting music and dancing. How wonderful, to be allowed to sing and dance and be creative during the school day!
Aside from one particular food fight which our principal, Mr. Blick, brought under control rather quickly by simply walking into the building, and subsequently having us all clean up the English peas we’d thrown everywhere, our lunchroom was typically a friendly, homey refuge to retreat to in the middle of the day. We had wonderful lunchroom ladies who knew our names and knew who our parents were. They cared about us just like the teachers did, and they did a good job feeding us. I actually remember a few of the things we ate there at Highland View in those years, because I enjoyed them so much.
One was a “shrimp creole” type dish, which I remember being served with a large scoop (and we could ask for two scoops if we were extra-hungry). It was mostly rice with some shrimp and bell peppers, and was very moist, flavorful, and rather pink in color. I liked the hamburger steak and gravy, too. But the favorite thing that I remember being served to us was chicken and rice.
I know, it seems like a rather simple thing to remember for this long, but it was everything chicken and rice should be: moist, full of tender chicken pieces, and well-seasoned. Trust me, if it had been unsalted and bland, I would not have eaten it, nor would I have remembered it all these years. It was crafted by the ladies in the kitchen who knew how to cook well, and who fed us the same homestyle food they fed their own families….they just used much bigger pots to cook ours in.
I think because I was a child who was from North Carolina, and because my dad was from South Carolina, where rice is a staple, any dish with rice in it was familiar and comforting to us. We had it frequently at home, in many forms: shrimp creole over rice, red beans and rice, rice and chicken gravy, and more. To be at school and find a dish that was as delicious to me as it was familiar and comforting was a huge help, especially as I adjusted to our life in Florida when I was in fourth grade.
These days I make rice frequently for my own family, including chicken and rice. It is, I admit, a bit of a project to boll a whole chicken, pick it clean, use the broth from boiling to cook down the rice, and so forth. It’s something I enjoy doing, but on a busy weeknight when time is short, it’s not possible.
I decided to try a simpler method that would cook quickly and would only “dirty up” one pan, as we always said at home. It’s a bit different than traditional chicken and rice, as I decided to bring that cool-weather comfort food into spring with the addition of fresh herbs and lemon.
I love the flavor that resulted from those additions, making it worthy to serve to guests, who will never guess how easy it is to prepare. It’s ready in only 25 minutes, in only one pan on your stovetop.
One-pan Italian lemon chicken thighs and rice
- One package (6-8 pieces) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried basil and oregano)
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 2 1/4 cups canned chicken broth
- Juice of one lemon, plus another lemon for slicing
- Fresh basil
1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Brown the chicken in the butter on each side for 1 to 1.5 minutes. (it won’t be done all the way through). Set chicken aside on a plate.
2. To the pan drippings, add the uncooked rice, stirring over medium heat for a minute. Add the juice from one lemon, chicken broth and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Stir.
3. Place the partially-cooked chicken thighs on top of the rice, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. About 10 minutes in, top the chicken with sprigs of fresh basil, if available, and lemon slices. Cook ten minutes more.
If at the end of 20 minutes there is still broth remaining, cook for another few minutes. Alternatively, if your fire is too high, the rice will scorch, so make sure to keep an eye on the pan. You want a low simmer, not a full boil, to cook the rice correctly. If the pan dries out before the rice is tender, add 1/2 cup liquid to the pan and allow to cook a bit longer.
Note: Replace the fresh basil with fresh thyme or oregano sprigs, if needed. Those fresh herbs will go beautifully with this dish, too!
Copyright 2016 Stephanie Hill-Frazier. All rights reserved.