With the fall Jewish holidays on weekdays this year spending the whole day in the kitchen is just not going to be possible for me. So my solution for a “special” holiday meal is to make a chicken and barley one-pot dish with Eastern European Jewish flavors and ingredients and with lots of unattended cooking time. It can also be made ahead and reheated. Accompanied by challah, green salad, and maybe some pickles, and followed by a light fruit dessert you’ve got holiday dinner, at least at my house.
Holiday One Pot Chicken with Barley
Barley has a distinctive texture and can take assertive flavors. The chicken breast halves stay juicy since they are not cut up but browned and cooked intact.
This is one of those dishes that taste even better when made ahead. If you make this in a casserole dish safe to use on the stove, you can make it ahead, store it in the fridge, reheat it in the oven and serve it all in the same dish (see note below). If you are making this recipe the same day you’ll have almost an hour of hands-off cooking time (and only one pot to clean later).
If you are making this for Kol Nidre dinner you may want to cut down on the spice, leave out the garlic and reduce the salt, since many folks like to minimize those tastes before they fast.
6 skinless and boneless chicken breast halves (about 2.25 pounds)
¼ tsp dried, ground oregano
¼ tsp + ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp + ½ tsp salt
2 Tbs + 1 Tbs olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into thin (1/8” thick) rings (about 1 cup)
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1/8 tsp dried, ground ginger
¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes or to taste (optional)
½ cup + ½ cup + 3 cups good quality chicken stock
1 cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
1 cup chopped carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper (about 1 large)
2 cups chopped crimini (small brown) or white button mushrooms
1 cup uncooked pearl barley, rinsed and drained
½ tsp sweet or hot paprika (optional)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Season the breast halves on both sides with the oregano and ¼ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of pepper. Heat the 2 Tbs of oil in a large (12” or bigger) sauté pan, chicken fryer, Dutch oven bottom or stove-top safe casserole over medium high heat. Add the chicken breasts and brown on each side until golden brown. Work in batches if necessary so as to not crowd the pan.
Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside. Add 1 Tbs of oil, heat and add the onions, stirring and turning in the oil until they are coated with the pan juices and separated into rings. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened. (Be sure to get all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan stirred in as well.) Add ½ cup of stock as the pan begins to get dry. Raise heat to medium high and add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Sauté for a minute, then add the next ½ cup of the stock. Add the celery, carrot, red bell pepper and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the barley and stir well to mix. Add 3 cups of stock, stir well. Taste and add remaining salt and pepper as needed (commercial stocks vary in saltiness; note that the barley will also absorb some saltiness). Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover with a lid or foil.
Simmer covered for 30-35 minutes (barley should be getting tender to the bite). Remove the lid, stir and then nest the chicken pieces in the vegetable and barley mixture, pressing them down so they are about half submerged. Pour any accumulated juices from the plate on top of the chicken. Sprinkle the paprika on the chicken. Raise the heat back to medium high. Cook uncovered until the chicken is cooked through and the barley is tender but still has a bit of resistance in the center. Most of the broth should be absorbed, but the mixture should have some liquid but not be soupy. (About 15-25 minutes). Serve in the pan or casserole or transfer to a platter, garnishing with the parsley.
Reheating Note: If you plan on reheating, undercook the dish and leave a bit more liquid. Be sure to cover it when reheating in the oven and be prepared to add a little water or stock if it begins to dry out. For best results, take the pot or casserole out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before reheating.
This article originally appeared in Temple Beth Abraham's Omer newsletter.