Chicken pilaf is a healthy and comforting classic Romanian one pot meal that's easy to make and on the table in no time.
I grew up eating chicken pilaf and have fond memories of eating is throughout my childhood, especially when visiting my grandparents for summers in Romania.
My grandparents always had chickens, as do many Romanians. Chicken pilaf is ubiquitous throughout Romania and in the regular meal rotations of many households.
For me chicken pilaf in the Romanian culinary tradition is characterized by rice that's cooked together with the chicken so it absorbs the flavor of the chicken while cooking.
As far as the vegetables go, it's basically like chicken soup in rice form so you will usually see onion or leek, carrots, and peas. I like to add mushrooms since we really like mushrooms.
Like any traditional dish, opinions differ a bit about the exact composition and I've even heard some Romanians argue that mushrooms don't belong in chicken pilaf. I think it really depends by household and by region what's included.
I prefer to think of chicken pilaf in terms of what does define it, rather than the ingredients that shouldn't go in it. A few mushrooms never hurt anyone right?
If you grew up eating chicken pilaf, let me know in the comments how you made it. Are mushrooms a yay or a nay in your household?
- Bone-in with skin chicken drumsticks: The skin and bone in the chicken replicates the way this dish is traditionally made, with whole pieces of chicken. The bone and skin adds a ton of flavor by basically turning the cooking liquid into a stock which then infuses into the rice and gives it that beautiful rich texture. You can also substitute boneless thighs or breast if that's your preference but I strongly recommend bone in and with skin.
- White rice: The traditional choice is a short grain rice like arborio or carnaroli. These types of rice have a lot of starch which gives the pilaf a really creamy consistency. I've also made chicken pilaf with basmati and though it doesn't give quite as creamy of a texture, it's a totally fine substitute.
- Leek: Leek is the aromatic vegetable in this dish, bringing the flavor base that's normally achieved by adding onion. If you don't have leek you can substitute half a cup of finely diced yellow onion.
- Carrot: Carrot cut into little medallions adds sweetness, nice texture and a pop of color.
- Peas: Peas bring some more heartiness to the pilaf. I recommend using frozen peas but canned are also okay if that's all you have.
- Parsley: Parsley contributes to the overall flavor development.
- Vegetable oil: The vegetable oil is used to brown the chicken drumsticks before cooking which develops more flavor.
- Summer savory: Summer savory is used extensively in Romanian cuisine and known locally as cimbru. It has a very distinctive flavor similar to thyme but a bit earthier. If you don't have summer savory then you can substitute an equal amount of thyme.
- No sodium chicken bouillon cube: A no sodium bouillon cube adds a ton of extra flavor. In Romania many households use the seasoning known as Vegeta instead. I didn't use it because it contains salt and I prefer adding salt separately. If you use Vegeta then adjust the amount of salt accordingly.
- Seasoning (salt, black pepper and white pepper): These are the traditional seasonings that go into chicken pilaf in addition to the all-important cimbru. White pepper is a classic addition to pilaf and has an earthier and muskier flavor than black pepper.
- Water: I usually mix the seasonings and bouillon in with the water in order to make sure the seasonings are distributed evenly.
A large pot with a lid that can go from stovetop to oven. I used my Le Creuset braiser which is pictured and is 3.3 liter / 3.5 quart.
You will need a pot at least that large.
It's really simple. You just need to lightly season the chicken drumsticks and then brown them on all sides to develop a lot of flavor.
After the chicken drumsticks are browned, you add the leek (or onion if that's what you're using) and let it reduce a bit alongside the chicken drumsticks.
Once the leek is reduced the magic happens. You just add everything in, give it a little stir to make sure it's all evenly mixed, then cover and cook.
Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to stagger the water. I added 4 cups at first and then the rest once the rice has a chance to absorb a bit.
That's how the recipe is set up in the recipe card, but feel free to add all the water at once if your pot is big enough.
Chicken pilaf is traditionally served with sour pickles like classic cucumber pickles or otherwise pickled green tomatoes, pickled cauliflower, or any other pickle you like.
If you are Romanian to the core, then you might also eat chicken pilaf with bread.
Looking for more mealtime inspiration? Maybe you'll like one of these:
Easy Chicken Pilaf (One Pot Romanian Healthy Comfort Food)
- 8 chicken drumsticks
- 1.5 cups white rice
- 1 leek finely sliced
- 3 carrots cut into medallions
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 0.5 cup parsley chopped
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon dried summer savory or substitute thyme
- 1 tablespoon no sodium chicken bouillon cube
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 3 teaspoons salt or more to taste*
- 5 cups water 1250ml
- Heat the oil in the pot over medium-high heat.
- Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt evenly over the chicken drumsticks.
- Sear the chicken drumsticks until lightly browned.
- Add the leek and sauté alongside the chicken drumsticks until reduced and aromatic.
- Dissolve the bouillon cube in 4 cups of water along with the salt, savory, black pepper, and white pepper.
- Add the carrots, peas, parsley and rice to the pot then pour in the water.
- Cover and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes then add the rest of the water and gently stir to mix in and make sure the bottom isn't sticking.
- Cover again and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until the chicken and carrots are fork tender.
- * I used 4 teaspoons of salt for this recipe and it was a good amount for me. Start with 3 and add more to your taste.