This chicken and rice bake is a delicious Greek recipe for a healthy dinner. The brown rice and extra vegetables pair perfectly with the lemony-garlicky chicken thighs.
This healthy baked chicken with rice is a great everyday dinner for the whole family. No one complains when it's on the menu!
Just like this Greek baked chicken with potatoes, this is a recipe with classic Mediterranean flavors. The lemon, garlic and oregano flavor the chicken beautifully and because it gets baked with the rice, the rice gets extra tasty too.
Serve this delicious dish with a healthy tossed green salad and you're good to go.
If you have a large, deep skillet that can go into the oven I suggest you use that because it will be the only dish you'll have to clean, otherwise you can use any skillet (or frying pan) you have for sauteing the chicken and then a baking pan to finish the food in the oven.
Most of the times I prefer baking the rice in the oven because I get a fluffy result with absolute no effort, but there are also times when I crave a creamy chicken risotto. Those times this classic Greek chicken risotto is my go-to recipe.
Why is this baked chicken and rice healthier?
The main reason this is a healthier recipe than the classic, is because brown rice is used instead of white. Brown rice is generally higher in fiber and has more minerals and nutrients, plus a lower glycemic index (GI) according to healthline.com.
Also, skinless chicken is used mainly because the skin has extra fat but also because it can make the rice feel greasy.
Another thing that offers some extra health benefits is the addition of vegetables like chopped carrots and red bell peppers.
These vegetables makes the rice not only so much more flavorful but also more appealing to the eye due to their color. Just make sure to chop them into small cubes for the best results.
Why chicken thighs or drumsticks?
Because they're a crowd pleaser!
I generally avoid using chicken breast for this recipe because it can dry out easily - however if you prefer it you can totally use that. Instead the thighs or the drumsticks of the chicken remain moist, juicy and tender even if you bake them a bit more.
As noted in the recipe box at the end of this post, the chicken is best to be skinless and boneless. We don't want the skin because it has extra fat and because with this baking method it will not get really crispy.
Bone-in chicken will work just as fine and it will also be fully cooked by the time the rice is ready, but I generally use boneless because it's easier to eat and it's what I usually find at the store.
Why saute the chicken first and then bake it?
Sauteing the chicken meat before baking it gives it much more flavor because the contact with the hot surface of the skillet caramelizes the proteins of the meat.
To achieve this, the skillet should be very hot and the meat should not be crowded inside the pan. Stirring also doesn't help. Just let the meat brown on it's own and when it's ready you'll start to smell it.
What kind of rice?
The best kind of rice for this recipe is a brown rice (usually it's parboiled) that needs 10 minutes cooking time. You shouldn't have any difficulty finding it because most big stores have different brands of this kind of rice.
If you have a brown rice that needs 20 minutes to cook, you'll have to add some more water (or chicken broth) to the pan. The baking time could be the same or it may take a few more minutes (this will depend on the baking dish, your oven and other factors). More details for how to adjust the quantities are in the recipe box below.
Also, if you just don't want to use brown rice, any other long grain rice which needs 10 minutes to cook will do. Basmati and Jasmin rice are great options. Please don't use risotto rice, instant rice or wild rice because it will not work.
If you love rice you may also want to check this Moroccan rice (pilaf) recipe which is a great side for many meat dishes. Also, spendwithpennies.com has a useful article for how to Cook Brown Rice (oven/stove).
Baked chicken and rice (healthier Greek recipe)
- 1.75 - 2 pounds (800-900 grams) skinless chicken thighs or drumsticks ((boneless or not))
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, (in small cubes)
- ½ a carrot, (in small cubes)
- 2-3 garlic cloves, (minced)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 ½ cups brown rice ((see notes))
- 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 ¼ cups hot water or chicken broth
- chopped parsley, Kalamata olives, feta cheese
- 1 large deep cast iron skillet or an oven-safe deep saucepan. Otherwise use a regular saucepan for sauteing the chicken and a casserole or a 12-inch round baking pan for the oven.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C)
- Saute the chicken: Place the skillet over high heat, add the olive oil and the meat and let it brown without stirring it (about 4 minutes). Once done from one side, flip the meat and brown from the other side for another 3-4 minutes.
- Saute the vegetables: Remove the chicken from the skillet and transfer it to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium/high and add the onion, the bell pepper and the carrot and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic, the bay leaves, the lemon zest and the rice and cook for 1 more minute. Add the lemon juice, the oregano, the salt, the pepper and the hot water (or broth).
- Bake: Arrange the chicken over the rice and pour any juices from the plate into the pan. Sprinkle some additional salt over the chicken, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. After that, remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more.
- Serve with chopped parsley, Kalamata olives and feta cheese.
- For the rice: You should use a brown rice that says it's cooked in 10 minutes. Brown basmati rice, white basmati and other long grain varieties will do as long as the packaging states that they need 10 minutes cooking time.
- If your rice says it needs 20 minutes, then add 3 cups of water (or chicken broth) and check for doneness at the end of baking time. If it seems uncooked add another half a cup of hot water and continue baking for 5-10 minutes more.
- For the chicken: You can use chicken breast instead of thighs (but they will be less juicy). If the chicken breasts are too big, saute them for 6 minutes each side and continue according to the recipe directions.
- Don't use instant rice or risotto rice.
- Don't use too much lemon zest because it can get bitter. Using grated ginger instead of lemon zest is an interesting variation.