Food & dining

The confident cook

Recipe: Roast chicken stuffed with rice pilaf is a festive dish all over the Middle East

Spicy whole chicken stuffed with rice pilaf
Sheryl Julian for The Boston Globe
Spicy whole chicken stuffed with rice pilaf

Stuffing chicken with rice pilaf is a festive dish all over the Middle East, served on beautiful trays. The presentation is impressive and the flavors worthy of a celebration. A Lebanese version is made with rice and ground meat (hashweh). You can find all kinds of grains, mostly cooked pilaf-style, stuffed into the cavities and the cooked birds emerge golden with spices. This rice pilaf is mixed with raisins, almonds, lemon rind, and cilantro. It’s similar to one I had at a home in Jordan a few years ago, where several small birds were lined up on a platter and it was stunning.

Whole chickens in this country tend to be large; look for a bird that weighs less than 3½ pounds. You can put it in the fridge overnight, uncovered, sprinkled with oil. Make the pilaf the night before (it needs to cool anyway), and mix the spices. The next day, when you go to stuff the bird, you’ll find that not all of the pilaf fits into the cavity, so roast the bird with its stuffing until the chicken is almost cooked, then spoon the remaining pilaf around the bird — right into the poultry juices in the roasting pan — and finish the cooking. Allow time for a brief pause in a warm place before serving. It’s just a chicken with some rice pilaf. But what a chicken!

Spicy whole chicken stuffed with rice pilaf

Serves 4



2tablespoons oil
1small onion, chopped
1cup long-grain white rice
cups water
½teaspoon salt
½cup almonds (unskinned or blanched)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¾cup golden or dark raisins, or currants (or a mixture)
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

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1. In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a dry skillet, brown the almonds, shaking the pan constantly, for 4 minutes, or until toasted.

3. Transfer the cooked rice to a shallow bowl. Stir in the pepper, raisins, and lemon rind; cool.

4. Just before using, stir the almonds and cilantro into the rice.



½teaspoon allspice
½teaspoon cinnamon
½teaspoon nutmeg
½teaspoon cumin
½teaspoon coriander
½teaspoon turmeric
½teaspoon chile powder
1whole chicken (3 to 3½ pounds)
1tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil (for sprinkling)
2tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1lemon, cut into wedges (for serving)

1. Have on hand a 12-to-14-inch roasting pan.

2. Let the rice mixture and bird sit out for 30 minutes.

3. Set the oven at 375 degrees.

4. In a bowl, stir together the allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and chile powder.


5. Remove the giblets from the chicken (use all but the liver to make stock). Wipe out the inside, removing any dark pieces that cling to the backbone. Pat the CHICKEN SKIN dry. Set the chicken in the roasting pan. Rub it all over with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

6. Holding the vent (tail) end of the chicken open with one hand, use a spoon to fill the cavity with as much of the rice mixture as you can get in, pressing it to make it compact. Set the remaining rice aside.

7. Sprinkle the bird with the spice mixture but do not rub it in. Drizzle more olive oil onto the skin to moisten the spices but do not rub in the oil. Use string to tie the leg ends together with the tail.

8. Roast the chicken for 50 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and spoon the remaining rice around the edges of the chicken. If the chicken skin seems dry, sprinkle with olive oil.

9. Continue roasting the chicken for 30 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the cavity registers 165 degrees. Do not remove the chicken from the oven until the rice reaches this temperature; if the bird and rice are getting too dark, cover the pan loosely with foil and continue roasting for 10 minutes. Total chicken roasting time is 80 to 90 minutes. Let the chicken sit in a warm place for 10 minutes.

10. Use a spoon to remove the rice from the cavity and transfer to a platter. Add the rice from the edges of the pan to the platter. Carve the chicken into 8 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 breasts, and 2 wings with breast meat attached) and set them on the rice mixture. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lemon.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.