A Quick Tasty Chicken Supper

Chicken and barley, kind of brown and beige, very very tasty.

Chicken and barley, kind of brown and beige, very very tasty.

If I had to get out a recipe and make a supper dish following the instructions, and having to measure this or that, and cook something for eight and a half minutes, then simmer for ten, and add five things, well, this time of year, it just won’t happen. I’m saving that kind of energy for my holiday baking.

Neither do I want to rely entirely on prepared foods, though a fresh pizza from the store is a welcome fast supper. And I have some homemade “prepared” foods in the freezer, like baked beans, spaghetti sauce, chili—those kinds of things I can easily make more of than we will eat in any one meal, and so set a portion aside for exactly this kind of situation. As long as I remember to thaw it.

The other evening, though, I gazed at the package of chicken thighs I had pulled out thinking we had not had chicken for a while, and perhaps Toby would enjoy some, and recalled a chicken and rice dish I had observed a friend make a few years ago, and thought, I bet that would taste really good. It is brainlessly simple. I used barley instead of rice, but you could also use orzo, or couscous to the same effect.

All I did, and all you have to do, too, is slice up a large onion, or some leeks, and put them with a mere smear of oil in a heavy skillet, then plop the chicken pieces on top, sprinkle the rice, or barley or whatever, in the spaces in between the chicken, add some salt and pepper, then pour in water until the grain is covered. Put it over a medium heat and slap a lid on it. Come back in fifteen minutes to check it, add more water if needed, and give it another fifteen, and supper ought to be ready.

You can cook this in the oven, if you want, at 350 degrees. I prefer to do it on top of the stove so I will smell it, and remember I am making supper.

To keep it from being hopelessly boring, add chutney. That is, after all, why I make bucket loads of the stuff out of peaches, rhubarb, green tomatoes, etc.  Or add your favorite condiment, whatever it may be, like barbecue sauce, or salsa, or even salad dressing.

Steam up a couple of vegetables for the green side of the meal, salad, if you have the energy, and before long you’ll have a relatively wholesome supper done with, and you can get on out of the house for the concert or meeting, or back to trimming your tree.

Here is the non-recipe.

Skillet Chicken

Vegetable oil

A large onion, sliced

Cut up chicken pieces

Barley, rice, or small pasta


Salt, pepper

Favorite condiment

Put a mere dribble of oil in a heavy skillet and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan. Distribute the onion slices over the bottom, and set the chicken in a single layer on top of the onions. Sprinkle rice or barley in between the chicken pieces about a half inch deep. Add water to cover the grain, sprinkle on salt and pepper. Cover with a lid, and cook over a moderate heat for fifteen minutes. Check, sampling the grain, and add a little more water if necessary. Cover again, and cook for another fifteen minutes.

Top with a condiment and serve.

Makes as many servings as pieces of chicken allow.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.