Cooked entirely in a cast iron skillet, this chicken dinner is easy, quick and full of flavor. Credit: Sandy Oliver

This meal, cooked in a favorite old cast iron skillet, goes together quickly and messes up only one pan. You’ll want to start it 45 minutes before supper time. But once it is assembled, you won’t have to stand around watching it, and you can flavor it anyway you like.

This time around, I used smoked paprika, lots of onions, and salt and pepper. If you like Tex-Mex flavors, then you should use chili powder, cumin, chipotle powder and cilantro. Indian? Cook with curry or garam masala and serve with chutney on top. Italian? Garlic, oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme, and red pepper flakes and grate a lot of parmesan on top.

You get the picture. Or maybe all you want to taste is chicken, so salt and pepper will do it.

For this operation, I prefer chicken thighs with bones in and skin on, but drumsticks are fine. Chicken breast meat is liable to toughen up if you braise it this way. You could capsize the process and cook the rice first then stick the breast meat in to cook.

Rice, small pasta like orzo, or a form of couscous from small grains to pearled Israeli work well and pick up all the flavors. This time I combined rice and pearl couscous because I thought it would look pretty. I used a whole medium-large onion which I browned in the pan before adding anything else. If you like onion, you will want to use it in any of the possible versions of the dish. I also dumped a whole lot of arugula on top and put a lid on it to steam the vegetable. I could have also used spinach, or any tender green like shredded chard, maybe even a few small broccoli or cauliflower florets.

Generally, I saute the onions, push them aside, then brown the chicken, skin side down, until it is nice and golden. Then I flip it over, sprinkle the seasonings over it, add the rice or pasta with hot water (or stock, if you have it) put a lid on to cook the grains. By the time the grain is done, the chicken is, too. This produces a substantial meal simply. It works alone or with a salad added (or another side vegetable).

In the instructions that follow, keep in mind that this is an eminently flexible meal. Adjust the number of thighs you have to the number of people you feed; adjust the onion size to the thighs; use a wider pan and add more rice or pasta when you cook more thighs and start with an equal amount of rice or pasta and hot water, adding more gradually as it cooks and the liquid is absorbed. As far as seasoning is concerned, add to taste. The same goes for the greens.

This can serve one person or up to six or eight depending on how large a skillet and group you have.

When supper is over, I take a wet sponge and wipe out my old cast iron skillet, so well-seasoned that it’s a non-stick pan, and I’m all done.

Cast Iron Skillet Chicken Supper

Servings vary

1 medium to large onion

Olive oil

1 chicken thigh per person

¼ to 1/3 cup rice or small pasta per person

½ to 2/3 cup of hot water or stock per person

1 teaspoon of favorite seasoning or combination of seasonings

A generous handful of tender greens per person

Salt and pepper

1. Slice the onion, put a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the onion until it is soft and translucent, 5 minutes at least.

2. Push the onion to one side and lay the thighs skin side down to brown 5-10 minutes, raising the heat a little if necessary.

3. When the skin has a golden color, flip it over and cook the thighs for another 5 minutes.

4. Sprinkle the rice or pasta all around the chicken and add the hot water or stock. It will bubble vigorously at first then settle down to a simmer. Adjust the heat downwards to simmer.

5. Sprinkle the seasonings over the top of the chicken and rice or pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and put a lid on the skillet.

6. Simmer the dish for about 30 minutes. Check to see if it needs more liquid and test to see if it’s done (juices from chicken should run clear.)

7. Lay the greens over the top of the chicken and grains, return the lid, and leave for another 5 minutes or until the greens are wilted.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...