Sunday, March 6, 2016

Baked Chicken and Mushroom Rice (aka Chicken No Peeky)

Toward the end of high school, my dad been laid off from work at the aluminum plant, and was doing small, part time jobs here and there. My sister was off in Seattle, at UW, my mom was working... and my dad and I were driving each other crazy.
I was having a difficult time with him suddenly being in charge of doling out chores, because he was way more of a hard ass than my mom, and he was having a difficult time dealing with my sister and me growing up. His oldest had left home, and his youngest was boy crazy. And while that was cute when I was a kid, we all know how “cute” it is when teenagers have their own cars, late curfews, terrible judgement, and they start dating. It’s not cute, you guys. It’s terrifying. Needless to say, it was a rough period of tension between me and my dad. 

It was also the period of chicken-no-peeky. My dad was a great cook. He was master of the grill, an expert waffle and crepe maker, and chief baker and dessert connoisseur in our house. But suddenly, for the first time, being responsible for dinner every single night, his creativity hit a wall. We ate many stir-fried dishes. We ate even more chicken and rice casseroles. 

You know the one with chicken, cream of mushroom soup, and rice? That was his go-to. The internet will tell you it's called no-peek chicken, because you dump everything in a baking dish, cover it, and don’t peek until it’s done. In our house, it was chicken-no-peeky. And it was his speciality. I ate it, begrudgingly, many times a week, until the day he tried to sneak in a can of chicken noodle soup. That was the end. He was out of cream of anything soup, and decided to just improvise… with a few cans of blended up chicken noodle soup… noodles and all, and godknows what else. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted. I threw a giant fit, and said I would never eat chicken-no-peeky again. That ended his no-peeky run (until I was out of the house, of course, then he was right back at it… my mom endured so much no-peeky).

Luckily, we made it through my teenage years, and my dad and I developed a really good friendship. We still laughed about the no-peeky incident years later. It became a standing joke in my family, much like my mom’s fuckingyams

When my dad passed away, my girlfriends sent a bunch of food to my mom’s house. My friends V and Ben (of new baby fame!) sent down a couple of covered dishes, and mentioned something about lasagna. So my sister, mom, grandma, aunt and I made a big salad and garlic bread, and got ready to pop the lasagnas in the oven, and lo-and-behold, the biggest dish wasn’t lasagna at all… it was CHICKEN NO PEEKY. 

We laughed so hard. It was one of those rare, light, heart-warmingly happy moments in a dark, dark time. My dad’s final revenge, in the form of chicken and rice. I had no choice but to eat it, for him of course, and luckily, it was delicious. 

My version skips the canned soup in favor of a homemade cream of mushroom soup. I first made the mushroom base at Thanksgiving, when I made Smitten Kitchen’s green bean casserole, and knew that the creamy, mushroomy sauce was way too good to just make once a year. The homemade soup does make this recipe more than just a quick throw-together casserole, but it's not difficult, and it elevates the dish to something way more special. I think my dad would approve. 

Baked Chicken and Mushroom Rice (aka Chicken No Peeky)
Sauce adapted from this recipe

3 tablespoons butter
½ large yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
18 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced or chopped (about 5 cups)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (leaves removed from stems)
Pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup rice (uncooked. I used basmati)
1 cup water
1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt & pepper

preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

In a heavy-bottomed stock-pot or deep skillet on stovetop, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for a few minutes, until onion starts to brown. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook for about 8 minutes, until mushrooms have started to reduce in size. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add flour, and stir to coat. Add broth, ¼ cup at a time, and stir until the flour is mixed in. Once mixture starts to simmer, add cream, stirring and making sure nothing sticks to the bottom, for a minute or so, until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat. Should make about 3 cups. 

Stir rice into mushroom sauce, and add 1 cup of water.  Pour into a deep-sided 7x11 baking dish (or a regular 9x13). 

Place chicken thighs on top and nestle them into the soup mixture a bit, and sprinkle a generous shower of salt and pepper over each thigh. 

Cover tightly with foil, and bake for 2 hours, without peeking!
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