28 September 2015

Eats: lemon pepper chicken with orzo

Recently, I had the chance to go someplace I hadn’t been in over a year: one of the markets in the Italian neighborhood, here in St. Louis. I’m partial to this one, but alas, it does not have the most convenient hours of operation for a busy working lady. There’s only a small (well, it feels small) window of opportunity on a Saturday, and goodness knows my Saturdays don’t have hours of downtime in which I might leisurely peruse the imported pasta section at an Italian market.

But I finally carved out some time to go, and wandered those aisles as slowly as I could (without feeling too guilty about Mr. P wrangling the overly curious baby one aisle over). And one of the things I picked up on that luxurious grocery trip was this:

True, this is not necessarily something you must stock in your pantry. But I picked it up anyway, knowing how much we like lemon flavors in general, and specifically so I could make this skillet chicken and orzo recipe I’d spotted on Budget Bytes. I just needed some orzo pasta (Barilla brand, of course – it’s an Italian market!) and goat cheese, and I had the rest of the ingredients on hand!

I started by generously coating store-bought chicken tenders with the lemon pepper seasoning:

And cooking them in a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil over medium heat for a few minutes per side. Watch them carefully – you want that gorgeous brown coating, but just barely cooked through! You’ll add them back to the pan later, so don’t overcook them now.

Once the chicken is all cooked, remove it to a separate dish. Then add minced garlic (I used “some”; the source uses two cloves) to brown in the juices, and perhaps some onion too – my lemon pepper clearly has a ton of onion in it, which is not in the original recipe, but I think it added a nice savory balance to the lemon. And finally, add a few tablespoons of lemon juice to deglaze the pan. I used the cheap bottled stuff, but you could use a real lemon, or some white wine if that’s what you’ve got.

Please note the missing nonstick coating, which scraped off practically the first time I used it after our wedding five-plus years ago. I still use this pan, even if I probably shouldn’t, because check out those brown bits! My fancy T-Fal pan doesn’t give me brown bits like that.

Next, you gotta cook the orzo... right in all that lemon and garlic goodness! Use 2.5 cups of chicken broth and a half a cup of orzo.

Use your vintage metal measuring cups to feel extra Pinteresty!

Stir it up, and turn the heat up to high to get the orzo cooking. I also added some dried parsley (“some”) but not extra lemon pepper, as I got the lemon flavor from the added lemon juice. Once it was bubbling, I turned the heat back down to low, put the chicken on top, and covered the pan to simmer for ten minutes.

You don’t even have to stir – just cover and do something else, like prepare a green vegetable for a side, or chase down your child who recently learned to crawl.

After ten minutes or so, lift up that lid to see the steamy goodness within!

Like Beth says at the original source, you want a little bit of liquid left so the orzo can be saucy. I went for a risotto-like amount of liquid, and in the end, it thickened when the pasta soaked it up. So go ahead and dig in!

The only thing I didn’t like about this dish was the goat cheese I put on top – and only because it was a different brand than usual which had a really (REALLY) weird taste. So from now on, I’ll skip the goat cheese from the Italian market and just get Trader Joe’s instead!

But even when I scraped off the weird goat cheese, this dish was still delicious and satisfying! Mr. P went back for a second helping of orzo, and Baby P’s teachers raved about how much he enjoyed the leftovers for lunch. I loved the dish but also how crazy easy it was to make and to clean up, with only a single pan involved!

And because I’ve got lots (obviously) of lemon pepper left, plus the rest of the box of orzo, this will definitely go in the regular rotation. The lemon is good for warm weather, and the creamy orzo is comforting in cold weather, so this is a dish to whip up year-round. Enjoy!