Start to Finish: 3 1/2 hours
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Fresh pesto imparts crisp, bright flavor to this chicken-and-rice dish. Prepare the pesto by hand with a mortar and pestle to achieve the best texture and flavor. You can use a food processor if you do not have a mortar-and-pestle set -- pulse the processor in one-second intervals whenever the recipe calls for mashing the ingredients with the pestle. Substitute 8 ounces of jarred pesto for the homemade sauce if you are short on time.
- 4 1/2 cups fresh basil
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled
- Pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
- 3 tablespoons pecorino cheese, grated
- 3/4 cup light olive oil
Chicken and Rice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups white or brown rice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
Prepare the Pesto
Remove and discard the stems from the basil leaves. Set the trimmed leaves aside.
Place the garlic cloves and salt in the mortar. Mash them into a paste with the pestle.
Add a handful of basil. Work the leaves with the pestle, until they are small pieces that look similar to minced basil. Add another handful of leaves and repeat the process. Continue working the basil until all of it is mashed in the mortar.
Drop pine nuts into the mortar. Crush them with the pestle, then work them into the mixture.
Scoop Romano and Pecorino cheeses into the mortar, incorporating them with the pestle.
Drizzle olive oil into the mortar slowly, working the mixture with the pestle as you pour it. Continue until you incorporate all of the oil and the sauce so that it has a uniform in consistency.
Cook the Chicken and Rice
Heat a skillet on medium heat. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan. Add butter.
Sauté diced onion in the oil and butter until the pieces are semi-translucent and golden brown, approximately 10 minutes. Transfer the onions directly to the slow cooker. Return the pan to the stove.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Place the chicken thighs in the pan, searing them until the bottom sides are golden brown. Browning the meat before slow-cooking it makes it much more flavorful.
Flip the thighs with tongs to brown the reverse sides. Don’t worry about cooking the chicken all the way through. The slow cooker will get hot enough to make the thighs safe to eat.
Pour chicken broth and salt into the slow cooker while the chicken thighs brown, stirring the ingredients to distribute the salt evenly. Add 1/2 cup of broth if you are preparing white rice; add 1 cup of broth if you are preparing brown rice.
Scoop raw white or brown rice into the slow cooker. Season the ingredients with onion powder, garlic powder and black pepper, stirring the mixture to incorporate them.
Transfer the chicken thighs to the slow cooker with tongs once the reverse sides are brown. Set them on top of the rice.
Pour an extra 1/2 cup of broth into the skillet to deglaze the pan. Scrape the browned bits of onion and chicken off the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon. Pour the broth and scrapings over the chicken and rice.
Cover the slow cooker with its lid. Set it on high.
Remove the lid and check the texture of the rice once it has cooked for two hours. Pour 1/2 cup of water into the slow cooker if the rice is still somewhat tough and there is no liquid remaining in the bowl.
Sprinkle the parsley into the bowl, distributing it evenly. Pour the pesto on top of the chicken. Don’t stir the ingredients. The remaining liquid in the cooker will help distribute the pesto into the rice. Serving the dish will also distribute the sauce through the rice.
Cover the slow cooker to finish cooking the dish for 15 to 30 minutes. Determine doneness by testing the texture of the rice and measuring the internal temperature of the chicken thighs with a meat thermometer. The chicken must be 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat.
Tips for Serving
One serving includes about 1 cup of cooked rice and 1 chicken thigh.
Dust each serving with grated Romano or Pecorino cheese. Garnish them with chopped Roma tomatoes or fresh basil leaves.
Tips for Ingredients and Substitutions
Many pesto recipes call for toasted pine nuts, which have a stronger flavor than untoasted nuts. You can toast the pine nuts to give the pesto a more robust flavor.
Substitute Romano cheese for Pecorino, if desired. Adjust the volumes to 4 1/2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and 1 1/2 tablespoons of Romano cheese. You can use 6 tablespoons of Parmesan instead of two cheeses, if necessary.
Use the lightest olive oil available, because it will have the mildest flavor. Darker olive oils have sharper, more pungent flavors that may detract from the total taste of the pesto.
Prepare the pesto the day before you make the dish, if desired. Cover and refrigerate the sauce until you use it.
It takes about one medium yellow onion to yield 1 cup of diced onion.
Chicken thighs are darker and contain more fat than lean chicken breasts, which makes them preferable for slow cooker recipes. Lean meats usually dry out and become tough in a slow cooker. You can substitute breasts for thighs, but you may want to include an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup of broth to help keep the meat moist.
Lamar Grey has been writing about cooking and food culture since 2010. He has ghostwritten eight cookbooks. Grey entered the culinary industry in 2003 as a prep cook in a full-service restaurant. He subsequently served as a baker and head cook on three award-winning kitchen staffs.