Recipe: Chicken Thighs with Orzo and Wild Garlic Pesto

I was all geared up to tell you about a pie recipe I’ve been working on; a pie recipe that is, frankly, cursed. I’ve just made it for the third time and I’m still not happy with the damn thing. A friend actually said to me, ‘why bother though?’ Yeah, not sure really. Maybe I need closure.

So, here’s a recipe for an excellent chicken dish I made today because I have a head cold and need comfort. You know when you’re clearly not well but still have a tiny bit of enthusiasm so attempt to leave the house, and then regret it? That’s what happened when I went to the butcher for this chicken. I struggled into Peckham, ran into a friend, chatted to her while standing five feet away, sweating, croaked at the butcher for some meat, then scuttled home and lay down for three hours before I could even contemplate cooking.

It was definitely worth the effort, though, even the part where I decided to cook the orzo in the same pan, which necessitated standing over it for ten minutes, adding chicken stock and stirring, like making risotto. There was no way the accumulated fat and sticky brown bits were going to waste and anyway, stirring results in a creamy texture. Maximum comfort achieved.

I used butter to fry the chicken because I am sick and that is allowed. I can basically do anything I like. The pasta soaks it up, along with the chicken fat, released from its crisp, bubbled skin. A friend at the gym gave me the wild garlic (the gym! Irony! LOL!) as she has tons in her garden, and thankfully I’d whizzed it into a pesto yesterday because getting the blender out is annoying for a perfectly well person, let alone me. It’s not even like it lives at the back of a cupboard but there’s something about washing the individual parts, the blade, the little bits that get stuck in the rubber seal… NO. I wouldn’t have coped.

It’s perfect on top of this dish, a bright splash of spring flavour that can find the taste buds despite everything. It’s a foil for the rich pasta and a cheering green – flowers added for extra gaiety. I ate it in bed, naturally, the cats reaching a tentative paw forwards every now and then, hoping for a scrap of meat. We all curled up afterwards and fell asleep again and – I shit you not – I actually dreamt of that sodding pie.

Chicken Thighs with Orzo and Wild Garlic Pesto

4 large, skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
25g butter
175g orzo
1 shallot, finely diced
450ml chicken stock, hot

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas mark 6

Heat a cast iron skillet or other oven proof dish on the hob over a medium heat and add the butter. When melted, season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan skin side down and cook until deep golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.

Turn them over so the skin is facing up and put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes (this time may vary depending on the size of your thighs). Remove from the oven and set aside on a plate.

Add the shallot over a medium heat and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the orzo and stir to coat it. Add the chicken stock a splash at a time, stirring until all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next splash. Once the orzo is just soft, add back the chicken thighs.
Allow to reheat for a few minutes, leaving the orzo undisturbed so it goes crisp on the bottom of the pan. Top with the wild garlic pesto (or serve on the side).

Wild Garlic Pesto

200g wild garlic, washed and dried thoroughly
100g Parmesan, grated
100g pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan until golden
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Put the wild garlic leaves in a blender with the Parmesan and pine nuts. Transfer to a bowl and add enough olive oil to make a sauce. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Catherine April 2, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Hope you feel better soon. This looks very comforting. I’m always worried about wild garlic being saturated with animal pee… you think rocket pesto would work? It’s my favourite. Which butcher do you use?

    Nigella has a tasty looking pea and lardon orzotto recipe I keep meaning to try.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves April 2, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks, Catherine. Not much happening here today other than sleeping and feeling sorry for myself. You do need to wash wild garlic but if you don’t fancy it, just use regular pesto. I’m not a fan of rocket in general as I find it quite a bullying flavour, but that’s purely personal taste. If you like it then I’m sure it would work for you here.

  • Avatar
    Reply Deborah April 4, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    I’ve never seen wild garlic here (I may not shop where it’s sold, if it is) but we WILL be in London(staying near Peckham) on Apr-14th – 20th. I hope it’s still around by then but I’ve heard it’s one of those fleeting herbs that you have a small window. David Lebovitz just posted about finding some in Paris and also did a lovely pesto recipe—
    Your chicken dish looks absolutely perfect for our first dinner, I’ll have a kitchen, yay! Looking forward also to trips to Persepolis for lunch and ingredients—
    Feel better, garlic will cure what ales you for sure.
    Aloha! Debroah

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves April 5, 2017 at 7:07 am

      Thanks Deborah! I *think* wild garlic will still be around then but yes, it does have a short season. When the leaves get older it’s best to give them a quick dip into boiling water as they develop a bitterness which the young leaves don’t have, I find. I hope you have a fantastic time in London! There’s so much going on. If you want any restaurant tips then drop me an e-mail 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Deborsh April 6, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    You mean more tips than the 3oo I’ve saved from your Londonist posts??? haha, Thanks but I have plenty, I want to visit every single one of those places you wrote about, even the “bad” ones, that’s how compelling your writing can be–OK, I won’t go to the bad ones, but felt the need to remark about your excellent reviews. And I am very happy to see Perspolis’ reviews are very good. Aghh, Trump has RUINED the word “very” for us–can someone please gift that @#!#@ a thesaures? Nvr mind, can’t read.
    Thanks for the tip about the garlic, I hope I get the chance to use it.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen Graves April 7, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      Haha no worries! Hope you have a great time eating your way around 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Rachel @ GameVillage May 8, 2017 at 5:03 am

    I have never heard of wild garlic pesto…Went through your post and I loved it. Something new to try. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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