Chicken Barley Pulao is a twist on one of my favourite Indian dishes – Chicken pulao. Following the same principles of making a pulao, this one-pot meal uses barley, providing a few added health benefits, as well as a delicious twist on the more traditional pulao recipe.
This tasty recipe was inspired by a mistake. A popular TV chef made a barley biryani recipe, which looked wonderful. There was just one issue with it…it wasn’t a biryani, and everything he said about biryani was incorrect.
So here I am in the awkward position of revising his original recipe and calling it chicken barley pulao (because that’s what it is!), but also trying to not name and shame the original chef (I’ve met him and he’s a super nice guy. I even messaged him to correct his original version but didn’t get a response – my message probably got lost in his sea of fan messages! 🤷🏾♂️).
What is Chicken Barley Pulao
Chicken barley pulao is a variation of a more traditional pulao recipe that replaces white rice with barley. While there are variations of pulao around the world (especially in Iran and Turkey) this recipe is based on the Indian/Bangladeshi version of pulao.
Pulao, sometimes referred to as pilaf, is a type of rice dish popular in the Indian subcontinent. It is made by allowing water (or sometimes stock) to completely absorb into the rice (and vegetables) in the dish. Typically, basmati rice is used.
Growing up in a Bengali household, chicken pulao was a staple on our dinner table. Any time it rained, my mother made pulao (I believe this is tradition!). And other times we had pulao, just because.
The difference between pulao and biryani
While pulao and biryani are traditionally both rice recipes cooked in water, there is a simple and clear difference between them: the water in a biryani is drained, whereas the water in a pulao is absorbed (by the rice…no draining required). Biryani typically also utilizes a larger number of spices making it a more aromatic dish.
Rant! Nothing irks me more than professional chefs completing butchering traditional recipes, by misrepresenting them or providing information that is simply incorrect. It really doesn’t take long to find the correct information!
Is barley pulao better than rice pulao?
Absolutely not. It’s a different take on a classic Indian dish. Some people will enjoy it more, others won’t…let me know what you think of it in the comments.
Well, I like barley. It’s got its own nutty flavor and texture, and I feel like it works well as a pulao! (After all, it’s already popular in soups, and other types of recipes…why not add it to a classic like pulao?) Besides, it all comes to get in one-pot, and that means less clean-up, which is always a win for me!
Is barley healthier than rice?
When compared to white rice, barley does provide a number of added health benefits: it is richer in fibers, minerals (such as magnesium, potassium, and iron), B complex vitamins, and proteins. It also has a lower glycemic index.
However, it is higher in carbohydrates, lower in folates, and is a much denser source of calories.
- Chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
- White onions, finely chopped
- Chili flakes (to taste)
- Tomato paste
- Chicken stock
- Pearl barley
- Fresh thyme, finely chopped
How to make chicken barley pulao
This recipe has a pretty simple approach. And there are three essential things we’re going to do: 1) Sear the chicken; 2) Prepare the barley in chicken stock; 3) Bake everything!
Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F. In an ovenproof pan with high sides, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. You can use any sort of ovenproof dish with a lid for this – in the photos/recipe video, I use a cast iron pan so that the process is easily visible. However, when making this recipe, I typically just use my Dutch oven.
Season chicken thighs with salt and black pepper, to taste. Place the chicken thighs skin-side down into the hot pan, and sear until the skin becomes golden. Flip and repeat on the other side. Remove from the pan, and set aside once both sides are golden.
Add chopped onion and chili flakes (optional) to the pan, cooking until the onions become brown and crispy. The tomato paste goes in next, cook for a few seconds, adjusting the heat as necessary (no tomato paste explosions please!).
Add in the chicken stock and mix using a heavy spoon (opt for wooden to avoid scratching your pan) – don’t forget to scrape the crispy bits from the bottom of your pan! Add the thyme and barley, stir. to mix, and place the seared chicken pieces back into the pan.
Cover the pan with a lid on and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove, stir to restore a little fluffiness to the meal. Garnish with a little fresh thyme, or some added chili flakes if you really like it hot. Enjoy!
- Opt for a low sodium chicken broth/stock to maximize the health benefits of this recipe.
- When searing your chicken thighs, avoid moving them around or trying to constantly adjust their angles in order to get that perfectly perfect sear – you might end up tearing the skin. It’s easiest to just let them sear naturally, and appreciating the perfectly imperfect nature of that.
- This is super obvious but please make sure that both your pan and lid are ovenproof before putting them in the oven.
- Don’t skip out on the oven step thinking a lid over a flame will be enough. You’ll end up with a flavorless chicken barley soup if you do!
One of my favorite things about recipes like this is how easy it can be mixed up. Here are a few things to try to make sure that this chicken barley pulao is right for you:
- Add ingredients to mix up the textures and flavor. Garlic is always an easy addition to this recipe, but if you want to get a bit more experimental, consider something like chanterelle mushrooms.
- This recipe includes a sprinkle of chili flakes to add a touch of heat, but if you’re more accustomed to it, feel free to add fresh chillies.
- To give it a more authentic Indian taste, and a touch more indulgence, you can swap out the butter for ghee.
- You can swap the chicken thighs for chicken breast to very slightly reduce the fat content in the recipe. I’d suggest sticking with the chicken thighs as they’re more flavorful. You can use bone-in chicken pieces, however you may need to adjust the cook times a little bit.
- This is more a suggestion for you Instant Pot pros out there, but you can certainly use a pressure cooker to speed the cooking process up, however I have no idea what settings you would use (I’m a “take life slow”-kinda guy). If you do go this route, let me know what settings you used in the comments section, and I’ll add it to the post!
Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-5 days. This chicken recipe can be frozen for up to one month, however I find that the texture isn’t quite as nice once thawed. (It tastes great as a “day-after” meal though!)
Other international dishes to check out
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One-pot recipes like this Chicken Barley Pulao are super convenient as they don’t usually require a lot of tools. However, a good pot is a great place to start. I use this Dutch oven at home. (It’s on the pricey side, but I think of it as a lifetime investment. It’s something I could probably pass down to my kids!)
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And that’s it for today! Have you ever made variations on pulao? Did you know the different between pulao and biryani? Let me know in the comments below.Print