Oven-baked chicken thigh and pumpkin barley risotto by Dominic Franks
Chicken thighs and pumpkins are, in my humble opinion, two foods that are sorely misrepresented and I feel they need some good PR.
The thighs are the very best part of the bird. There are no arguments to be had so don’t bother. I will fight you for it and will win! Skin on and bone in is, as always, my preferred choice but feel free to ruin this dish how you like. Tender and succulent dark meat, they are full of flavour and wrapped in a layer of fat and skin so that they can be cooked low and slow without drying out. (Oh and just for any veggies or vegans out there, you could easily swap out the chicken thighs for large, flat mushrooms or aubergine which would be utterly divine.)
Pumpkins also often get a very bad rap but if you find some of the smaller varieties they’re packed with autumnal flavour and it is the pumpkin month after all. Here in this dish the chicken thighs are so sweetly succulent they complement the pumpkin so well, both caramelising wonderfully together as they roast. I love an oven-baked risotto too as it’s utterly hassle-free but pearl barley makes such an excellent alternative to rice as they suck all those glorious juices up and become wonderfully plump.
When it comes to feeding the hoards, my chicken thigh rules are that two per person plus a leg is okay, depending on how much carb is being served with them, although I would easily eat three for supper.
I’m using a large oblong ceramic roasting dish for this as I think it works nicely and makes the dish look a little homely but any kind of dish or shallow pot would work, as long as it can go into the oven. Something with a lid is good but not essential because you can use foil.
Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C.
Place all the veg and herbs into the dish, season well with salt and pepper and then lay your chicken thighs, skin side up on top of the veg. Season well, wrap in foil and roast in the oven for 40 minutes. (You don’t need any oil as there’s plenty of fat in the chicken skin but if you’re using skinless thighs or doing the veggie version then use the aubergine and mushrooms in the same way as the chicken, just ensure you use really thick slices of both and drizzle them with olive oil.)
After 40 min, take the dish out of the oven, remove the foil and carefully take the chicken off the top of the vegetables. Tip in the pearl barley, pour in the wine and two-thirds of the stock and stir well, then place the chicken thighs back on, this time skin side down. Place the foil back on the dish and roast again for 20 min, then remove the foil and roast again for 10 min, then turn the thighs back over and roast again for a final 20 min so the skin is nice and golden and crispy.
You may need to top up the moisture level of the whole dish occasionally with the left over stock.
When it’s gloriously golden, take it out of the oven and crumble the cheese over the dish and let it sit for 5 min before serving.
Eat and of course, enjoy!