We love chicken Rice-a-Roni, and usually eat it as part of a periodic meat-free supper, which gives us variety and saves a little money. Well, until we’re so broke that Rice-a-Roni is a luxury versus, say, plain rice.
I’d realized recently that I could probably make something vaguely like Rice-a-Roni myself. I don’t know exactly what they use for flavorings, apart from obviously chicken, and I’m pretty sure there’s salt, saffron and sage in there. Chicken seasoning, generally. I may even be wrong about the saffron, and I certainly can’t replicate that as I have yet to spend the $21 required to buy some at Wal-Mart.
Most of the time I will search online for recipes to examine and, if not follow, source for ideas. I didn’t do that. Deb had suggested breaking up spaghetti into tiny pieces for the pasta component. We had some we were given that looked thinner than the store brand we usually buy, so I used that, ultimately cutting little bits off a few strands at a time with kitchen shears. Worked well, aiming them into a cup, with just a few jumpers.
I used almost a cup and a half of white rice. Someone in the family gave us a 10 lb bag of Goya brand. Usually we buy and use brown rice, but it’s nice to have both available, with white being better for this. To that I added a quarter cup or so of pasta bits. The proportion looked remarkably like Rice-a-Roni, so I figured I was on the right track.
In the meantime, I had put a cup of water in the microwave for a couple minutes, then dropped a bullion cube into it. In practice the dish needed two, so next time I would add the second one up front.
To the water I also added seasonings. Mainly I wanted any that would benefit from softening and releasing flavor in the water, like celery flakes, but for convenience I ended up putting all of in there. I was conservative with everything except the turmeric, and that wasn’t intentional. It was mainly for color, but the flavor worked, as long as it wasn’t all you could taste, which is why I ended up with the second bullion cube. Which was still a good idea, based on volume. I also added white pepper, rosemary, savory, poultry seasoning, lots of (powdered) sage, and tiny bits of crushed bay leaf, oregano, cumin, marjoram, and probably something I’m forgetting. Plus salt, which feels weird because I seldom use it, and at that I didn’t use much.
I followed the standard procedure, as if it were an oversized box of Rice-a-Roni. Three tablespoons of butter, melted in a frying pan that has a cover, then the rice and pasta tossed in and swished around to get coated with butter, stirring periodically until a lot of the pasta picked up a tan.
Then I poured in the cup of seasoned broth, and added about two more cups of water. It looked like it was going to run low later, so I added a quarter or so more. Rice cooking proportions, basically.
In this instance I added a bullion cube to the pan while there was still substantial water, after I realized I needed more, and I sprinkled on more poultry seasoning, sage, and rosemary to help enhance and balance the expected flavor. Mostly, though, I simmered and stirred until done, exactly as if it were Rice-a-Roni. Our poor high-sided frying pan has seen better days, so I have to watch it or it sticks badly in the middle, closest to the heat, where the coating gets mosts stressed.
It was beautiful to look at, nice and fluffy. Everyone loved it, but it was extremely mild in flavor. You knew you weren’t eating Just Rice, but it could have stood up to a lot more herbification. Now I’m eager to experiment. I can picture how I would improve on it, modify it, even make completely alternate varieties, like beef.
We ate it with a giant butternut squash, which was tasty and added heft to the meal, and green beans, which the kids – well, Valerie – ate better than I’d expected. Excellent combo.