Ode to the Strainer (Italian-ey Chicken and Rice)

Since getting divorced, a huge passion of mine has fallen by the wayside: cooking. It’s hard to cook for one. A single chicken breast, no matter how eloquently prepared, is just kinda…sad.

But I really have a knack for making stuff up based on the taste I want to have in my mouth. Tonight, I REALLY wanted chicken cacciatori. My mom taught me to make it when I was about 23 and it’s one of my favorite italian meals.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pasta. Or chicken breasts.
So, I decided to make a similar dish using what I had: brown rice and chicken thighs.

I started by straining a large can of stewed tomatoes. Stewed tomatoes are a STAPLE in my kitchen because they are cheap and can be used a gabillion different ways. And my strainer pops up way more than I tend to realize in cooking.

Tomato juices drip drip dripping.

Tomato juices drip drip dripping.

I got all the liquid out of the tomatoes and ended up with about a cup and a half of juice. I put the leftover tomatoes in a tupperware and set it to the side. I dumped the juice plus half a cup of water into the rice cooker, to equal 2 cups of liquid. I added salt, pepper, garlic powder, and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the tomato liquid.
Next, I measured out a cup of brown basmati rice. To be honest, plain brown rice or white basmati rice would have been better for this dish, but I’m using what I have. I also rinse my rice in a strainer.

Seeya starch.

Seeya starch.

Rinsing rice gets all the starchy rice dust off and keeps the results…how do I describe this…cleaner? It’s just feels less gritty than rice can sometimes feel if you don’t rinse. Soft, smooth rice. You get it.
Finally, I hit the herb garden. Bear built me an herb garden right before I broke my leg. Luckily, the hot Florida summer sun and daily afternoon rains did their jobs without much tending from yours truly.

The basil trees.

The basil trees.

I have tomatoes, purple and green basil, mint, flat leaf and curly leaf parsley, rosemary, chives, and oregano in there. Today I went out and snipped a big branch of basil, a hunk of flat leaf parsley (I prefer flat leaf for italian cooking, and curly for things like Mediterranean dishes), and a handful of ornery oregano.

Clean basil

Basil bath

Back to the strainer. I strained and rinsed all the herbs. Many of them have little bug-nibbles in the leaves and you know what? I think that’s cute and I like sharing.
Once they were all rinsed and dry, I plucked the leaves from each herb and set the stems aside as I went. Why? Because cooking rice with fresh herbs can really kill the herb flavor. It makes the leaves all mushy and kind of an unappealing, soggy mess. So instead, I use the stems in the rice cooker! Right on top they go, infusing all their delicious flavor into the rice as it cooks. As soon as the cooker ding-ding-dings, I’ll pluck them right off the top! No muss. No fuss.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

With the rice cooker ready to begin it’s long journey (sometimes up to an hour and a half for perfectly cooked whole grain brown rice), I got out my chicken thighs. Why chicken thighs? Because I buy organic chicken and sometimes that’s the only cut I can afford. Full of flavor and a nice, soft texture, chicken thighs sometimes get a bad rap. Give them a chance.

Stop looking at my thighs.

Stop looking at my thighs.

I trimmed all of the fat off of them and seasoned them liberally with salt, pepper, red pepper, and garlic powder. I cut them into nice little pieces and massaged them into the leftover tomatoes I’d set aside in the tupperware. I grabbed about 8 basil leaves, ripped them apart with my fingers, and massaged them right into my chicken and tomatoes. I left the whole party in the fridge while I finished up some laundry and waited on the rice to do its thing.

Chicken, tomatoes, and basil getting. it. on.

Chicken, tomatoes, and basil getting. it. on.

When the rice cooker showed 12 minutes left on the timer, I picked the chicken out of the tomatoes and popped the pieces into a pan with olive oil, giving them a quick high-heat sear.

Hot thighs.

Hot thighs.

Once they were all seared I took the chicken bits out and placed them on a plate and put some olive oil, garlic, and white wine in the pan. After a few minutes I added the tomatoes leftover from the tupperware and let all the flavors slow dance over medium low heat.

photo 5

Now it’s the tomatoes turn to get hot.

Just then, the rice dinged.

photo 1

Just pick those little stems right off the top! Easy peasy!

I chopped up all the herbs into little tiny pieces and added them to the rice. Remember, fresh herbs are FAR less pungent than dried herbs, so using a bunch of them (like a handful) is ok. Add a little at a time and taste as you go to be sure.

Nom.

Nom.

I added the chicken back into the pan with the tomato sauce to coat it and give it a little warm up.
Plated the two together, and let me tell you…it tasted NOTHING like chicken cacciatore. HOWEVER, it was freaking delicious and absolutely quelled my italian craving.

Sprinkle a touch of parmesan onto the chicken.

Sprinkle a touch of parmesan onto the chicken.

Check the “Peas” page for the recipe! And if you don’t have a strainer, it’s a cheap little kitchen tool you’ll use all the time.

 

 

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