Chicken Kabsa | Saudi Style Chicken and Rice

Chicken Kabsa

I wanted to start by thanking everyone who commented on my last post. It was heartwarming to hear from so many who also live with auto immune conditions, and to learn about the challenges they have overcome and the changes they have made to their life to find relief. It helps me to know that I am not alone in this and all I have to do is reach out to find friends. Thank you.

It was also interesting to learn that this food problem is just as prevalent in other countries. I knew it affected other countries but I had also learnt that many countries overseas had stricter laws concerning food additives and preservatives. It seems that it is not quite the case. They may be restricting some but they definitely aren’t rushing to ban all of them.

I do know that the US is the worst for what it deems acceptable for public consumption. So much so, that even China and Japan and many other European countries are restricting certain food imports from the US. I just hope our food people wake up and realise what the public really wants. Actually, we’re okay with just labelling; label the food and let people make up their own mind. Anyway, I’ll step down from my soap box now.

Chicken Kabsa

So, I don’t know if I ever mentioned this before, but I was actually born in Saudi Arabia. I left there when I was 6 and moved to London where I grew up. I remember a little bit of my time in Saudi, just flashes of memories. However, the ones I do remember all have to do with food. Even as a youngster, good food left a definite impression on me.

Most of the time we ate at home and that was pretty much always Indian. On the occasions we ate out or were at a wedding or event, the food was always Saudi; shawarmas, kebabs, rotisserie style chicken and Saudi rice and meat. Weddings and family meals were served Saudi style which is communal. As a child I though it was fun sharing food on a big tray, the ladies gathered around all digging into their portion of food on their side of the tray. Also, as a child born in Saudi, it was normal to me, even though we did not eat like that at home. It was different but my child mind was open to all possibilities.

This Kabsa is a Saudi dish of chicken or lamb and rice. I think it is Saudi Arabia’s national dish since it’s so loved by all Saudis and all foreigners who’ve had a chance to taste it.

Chicken Kabsa

It’s not particularly difficult to make but it’s has layers of flavour and thanks to the sultanas and almonds, lots of texture too. It is usually a heavily spiced dish and has a nice kick to it.

Traditionally, it’s made by cooking the chicken with spices in water and then using the broth to cook the rice. The chicken is then quickly broiled to crisp it up a little and then served atop the spicy rice often with a salsa like sauce on the side.

If I am making this for a dinner party, I like to cook the chicken and rice separately. I like to marinade the chicken with the Arabic spices and garlic and then bake it rather than boil it first. The rice I cook separately with spices and tomatoes in a chicken broth. I prefer this method only because I find the chicken stays more moist than the double cooking of boiling and broiling. Then I place the chicken and the juices over the rice and sprinkle the fried golden raisins and almonds.

However, when I crave this during a week night, I cook the whole skin on chicken in the pressure cooker with spices and then use the broth to make the rice. I cut up the chicken and quickly broil it to crisp up the skin. Weeknight Kabsa usually does away with the raisins and almonds and I serve with a salad instead of the salsa. Just as good but done in less time. Today’s post is the easy weeknight Kabsa.

I will do a post on the party Kabsa one day when I find where I put my recipe! I seemed to have misplaced my spicy rice recipe when we moved and I haven’t found it yet. This was before my blog so it’s written on some scrap of paper tucked inside a notebook somewhere in a box.

Chicken Kabsa

Chicken Kabsa

Calories: 4109

Fat: 150g

Saudi style spicy chicken and rice dish.
  • 1 whole chicken or large chicken pieces, skin on
  • 6 -8 cups water, enough to cover
  • 1 onion, in quarters
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Handful parsley
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons Bharat mix
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 2Β½ cups/500g Basmati rice, washed and soaked for 15 minutes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon red cayenne powder
  • 3 teaspoon Bharat spice
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • cinnamon stick
  • 1 fresh chopped green or red chilli, optional
  • 5 cups reserved chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Golden raisins/sultanas, soaked for 15 minutes, optional
  • Almonds, slivered or halved, optional
  • 2 tablespoons butter, optional
  1. In a pressure cooker or a large dutch oven, place the chicken or chicken pieces, onion, carrots, garlic cloves, parsley, and the spices and cover with water.
  2. If using a pressure cooker, follow your cooker instructions and pressure cook for 20-25 minutes.
  3. If using a dutch oven, simmer the chicken until tender, about 60 minutes.
  4. After the chicken is cooked, slowly remove from the stock and place on a baking sheet.
  5. If your chicken is whole, you could cut into pieces or leave it whole.
  6. You can even just pull the meat off the bones and serve on top of the rice without broiling.
  7. Allow the broth to cool a little and strain into a clean bowl and skim off the fat.
  8. Reserve for the rice.
  1. In a large pot, add the oil and lightly brown the onions.
  2. Add the cardamom pods and the cinnamon stick and toss in the oil.
  3. Add turmeric, the cayenne powder, the Bharat spices, mix thoroughly and cook a little in the oil.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook until softened.
  5. Add the fresh chilli if using.
  6. Add in the rice and toss in the oil and spices.
  7. Pour in the hot broth, add the salt and allow to come up to boil.
  8. Simmer the rice uncovered until most of the broth is absorbed and the level of broth is the same as the rice and you can see little dimples forming on the surface.
  9. Turn down the heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes.
  10. Put on a timer.
  11. After 10 minutes, remove from the heat and without lifting the lid, let sit off the heat for another 10 minutes.
  12. After 10 minutes, lift the lid and fluff up the rice.
  13. While the rice is cooking, turn the broiler on.
  14. Place the baking sheet with the chicken under the broiler and cook until the chicken is crisped and browned.
  15. If using the almonds and golden raisins, melt the butter in a small fry pan and fry the raisins and almonds.
  16. To serve, place rice on a platter, arrange the chicken on top and scatter the almonds and raisins.
  17. Or, you can just dish it up on plates like I do with a salad on the side.
Bharat is a spice mix commonly used in the Middle East. There is a 7 spice Arabic mix that can be used too, interchangeably. Here is a recipe for Bharat from Ottolenghi if you want to make your own
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 small cinnamon stick, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
Β½ whole nutmeg, grated
Grind all the spices together and store in a clean jar.

Chicken Kabsa

Hope y’all had a great weekend and are off to a great start to the week. My children are off for half term/spring break so they’re all home, being very trying. I did a big grocery shop and stocked up the fridges so they can eat themselves happy :). When they are home, that’s all they do, eat. Hope you’re having a great week!!

  1. I am an american i have been living in Saudi Arabia for 26 years now,of course my husband and kids are saudi i cook this dish almost everyday is good to
    Hear other people like the same. Nice website.

  2. I just had Kabsa with my family:) I’m from Saudi Arabia. yes we cook Kabsa as you said. Actually we have many types of Kabsa. we call them Bokhare, Boryani, white Kabsa, mthlotha,etc. the one u showed picture is called Bokhare. We learn how to make it from our moms. I wish I can make Kabsa for those people who saw ur pictures and feel hungry:))) I’m happy u like our food. Enjoy ur time and have a nice day.

  3. Hell, it’s not just additives and preservatives. I heard that in the US it’s completely legal for any random chicken battery farm owner to label his eggs any way he likes… so he could stamp “Farm-fresh, organic, free-range” on the front and it’s completely legal. What the hell is that about? Perhaps it varies by state? In any case, things like that are strictly enforced all across Europe, even down to semantics like whether something is “Made from strawberries”, “Strawberry flavoured”, or “Strawberry flavour”!
    Charles recently posted..Cheese and Vegemite SconesMy Profile

  4. Nazneen, this chicken looks delicious. I don’t know if I’ve ever had Saudi food. Have you ever been to Sahara restaurant on east Arapahoe Road, just east of 1-25? I’m asking because I wonder if it’s Saudi? Stepping back onto that soap box, just yesterday a coworker and I were talking about packaged salads and the smell and flavor that some of them have. Now i’m on a mission to find out just what they rinse and preserve them with? Some of them don’t have that odor and seem clean (like the ones from Whole Foods) Do you know?
    Lea Ann (Cooking On The Ranch) recently posted..Creamy Swiss and Mushroom Mac and CheeseMy Profile

    • I’ve driven past that place a few times but never been. Is it any good? My experience is that there are very few Saudi places as far as restaurants go. You can find many Lebanese. Palestinian and even Egyptian, but not Saudi…not sure why. Once in a while, someone who spent time in Saudi will recreate a dish in their restaurant. We had a couple in Houston with some some Saudi dishes. As far as the salad greens, most of the prepackaged salads are washed in diluted chorine, including organic. Some are washed in water that hasn’t been changed so it’s pretty dirty. It’s almost better to buy your own mix and wash it yourself. There is no winning!

  5. I makes you want to start your own huge garden right away….so you know how it was cared for. The problem is I only have a tiny balcony…so the saga continues… Love the spices in this dish and wish I had a beautiful pot like yours to cook mine in…
    Bam’s Kitchen recently posted..Sakura Shortbread CookiesMy Profile

    • Thanks Bam! I’ve grown tomatoes and chillies in containers and I prefer that in some ways. This year, I might try and plant a few things. I’m tired of paying an arm and a leg!

  6. Oh girl we have so much in common now πŸ™‚ I was born in Saudi Arabia too but left when I was just 2 years old. I love Kabsa with chicken as we do not like lamb meat. Love your recipe and waiting for the party one… I thought I am the only person who keeps misplacing important things specially when moving.
    Amira recently posted..Tunisian KaberMy Profile

    • Haha! You’re the only one who caught that πŸ™‚ I actually have 3 fridges but one that came with the rental we left it off. The other two are mine, one in the kitchen one in the garage. I need 2! Thanks Nancy πŸ™‚

  7. Having read the recipe and drooling over your photos, I’m absolutely going to put this on the menu for dinner his week! Love reading your blog!! X

    • I agree, John! Every cuisine does have one. I love them all I think πŸ™‚ Thanks, John!

  8. My early childhood memories also involve being surrounded by delicious things… amazing how much our childhood influences our adulthood πŸ™‚ I remember super dense ricotta pastries in the summers spent in the south, slurping spaghetti and my aunties’ homes, and a remarkably similar rice dish my dad’s mother cooked, with lentils and dates, with all the individual grains of rice standing like soldiers at attention. This chicken looks divine – so tender and that unmistakable yellow from turmeric <3
    francesca recently posted..Roasted Red Pepper Spread with DillMy Profile

    • Ooooh, I know that lentils and date rice! I’m a huge fan of Persian food and cook it often at home, just never posted any of them. Maybe this year…

  9. What a wonderful looking chicken dish that is so beautifully photographed I can almost smell it! I don’t thing there’s anything more comfortable than chicken and rice. I’m not familiar with any recipes from Saudi Arabia as it’s been a country that hasn’t been welcoming of foreigners. I did meet a man who had to go there for business and he would stay in one of the best hotels but outside his window, his view was where they would be publicly chopping off the hands of people they’d rounded up – not the best advertisement for tourism! The rice must be so full of flavour – I’d like to make this and I’m sure I could do it in my rice cooker xx
    Hotly Spiced recently posted..Sandyfoot Cafe and Bar, Shoal Bay, NSWMy Profile

    • Thank you Charlie. I would have to disagree, it’s not that Saudi is unwelcoming to foreigners it’s just not a tourist spot. Honestly, there’s nothing to do there so why would people visit? Now there are plenty of foreigners there, all enjoying the tax free income, subsidised housing and food allowances. You get rich quick there, but people want the money and still want to bad mouth the country. I’ve been to Saudi many times, I’ve never seen a hand cutting in public, so I’m not sure what your friend saw. I wouldn’t live in Saudi, but that country offers quite a bit to foreigners and it’s unfair to say otherwise. It also houses two of my favourite spots on earth, the Kabah in Mecca and the grave of the Prophet Muhammad.

  10. Hello, Nazneen! I, too, was amazed to learn that there are problems in just about every country’s food supply. It’s astounding, isn’t it? For some time, I’ve been in search of a good chicken and rice recipe. I had one, years ago, but it’s long gone and those that I’ve tried are pretty much run of the mill. Yours, though, would offer a completely new flavor profile for me. I’m going to try this and since I’ve the ingredients, I’ll even make my own Bharat. I’ll come back to let you know how I did. Thanks for sharing your recipe. Have a good week, Nazneen.
    ChgoJohn recently posted..We’re Celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day with a Sicilian StrataMy Profile

    • Thanks John! I hope you get to make it and more than that, I hope you like it! It is quite a flavourful dish and I love that it has some heat.

  11. This recipe sound delicious! Now I can say that I have made a Saudi dish. I experiment from time to time
    with Indian recipes. I have a book by Madhur Jaffrey that includes a few of her family recipes.
    I love the flavor of Indian spices.

    • Thanks Caterina! If you like Indian flavours you will enjoy ME. They’re similar but a little milder. I like them both πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Shashi! It’s quite possible you had it in Abu Dhabi. It’s getting pretty popular across the Mid East now. It’s incredibly good, maybe that’s why πŸ™‚

  12. This looks so delicious and comforting, Nazneen! And all that turmeric has to be good for what ails you, too! I have been using a lot of fresh turmeric lately – can you find that there? If you want, I would be happy to ship you some – I love the fresh flavor and color it gives! I will look forward to giving this a try soon! Hugs, David
    David recently posted..Confessions of a Salt AddictMy Profile

    • Thanks so much David! You are so sweet. I can find fresh turmeric at my Asian market and I actually have some in my freezer. I’m afraid to use it because it stains everything yellow!

  13. Nazneen, you have me drooling here! Oh my gosh – this looks wonderful. I wish I could look behind your shoulders and watch you cook all this wonderful food and smell all the aromas. : ) That pic with the golden rice is just beautiful.

    Good luck with spring break and all the busy cooking you’ll be doing to feed the hungry masses. : ) They are lucky children. Take care!
    Monica recently posted..Classic American loaf breadMy Profile

    • You are welcome anytime to drop by and look over my shoulder Monica. We can cook together πŸ™‚

  14. This is a beautiful recipe Nazneen. I love anything Middle Eastern (I am obsessed with spices) so it’s always a privilege to read recipes from people who share traditional spice mixes and recipes. I’ve never heard of kabsa but I am practically drooling over your photographs. Gorgeous! Hope that you still manage to get some rest amidst the craziness of having your kids home on holidays. Argh, sounds busy! x
    laurasmess recently posted..Blackberry Coconut SliceMy Profile

    • Thanks Laura! No rest for the wicked! I’m so tired this week because I had no rest last week! Argh!

    • I know, me too! I didn’t like all the bits in the rice. My children are the same way but I hope like me, they will love them as they grow older. This one is really good, as I know you like it “extra hot” πŸ™‚

  15. this recipe sounds so good! I was going to ask what the spice mix was made out of and continued to scroll down through the post and see you posted it. I might get on line and see if I can find it already made to order some as our small stores here do not always have a good supply of spices! it gets harder to find spices all the time for some reason.
    Karen recently posted..The Next To Be QuiltedMy Profile

    • Hi Karen, thank you! Yes, if you what to check on line you should be able to find a ready made package, it’s what I use. I have access to big ME grocers here though. You can use a 7 spice mix too if you can find one labelled “Bharat”. Thanks for your comment!

    • Thanks Denise! I know you will love it because it does have some powerful spices. You can make it as hot as you like too. It’s delicious!

    • Thanks Daniela! I’m so glad I could share this with you! It is incredibly flavourful and I’m glad you’ve had the chance to experience it.

  16. I have a thing for turmeric in rice…I find it irresistible starting from the Biriyanis. And yes, it reminds me so much of our tradition too. This dish looks so wholesome, aromatic and delicious. Spices do make everything nice. I hope you are feeling better now Nazneen.
    Sugar et al recently posted..Ferrero Rocher Mousse CakeMy Profile

    • Thanks Sonali, I am well! There is something about yellow rice! Turmeric adds lovely colour and flavour. There isn’t a rice dish I don’t love πŸ™‚

  17. I have been wanting to make a middle eastern style ‘biriyani’ for ages now. Interestingly, my Ma has a very similar recipe for a mutton biriyani she makes, which she learned during her stay in Iran. She does not use all spice though or parsley. I have baharat with me that a dear brother sent from israel last year. I wonder if their ingredients are same….. I am so making this.
    Minnie@thelady8home recently posted..Dhania Murg Makhni – Creamy Coriander chickenMy Profile

    • This dish is actually more of a Yemeni dish but I think it made its way to Saudi through immigrants and they have run with it! Iranian rice dishes never have the same spice, and are rarely hot. They rely on saffron as their major spice but use lots of dried fruit and nuts. I bet the recipe she has is pretty awesome. I love Iranian food. I have some pullao recipes from Iran that I will eventually post. Thanks Minnie!

  18. Dear Nazneen, I have never prepared a Chicken Kabsa or heard of it. The recipe sounds very intriguing with all those spices – I even had to look up what the spice mix Bharat contains, as I had no idea – sounds wonderful to me, must give this lovely recipe a lot of depth of flavor. The colors of the rice and the chicken together with the side salad are just amazing, the photography is absolutely stunning!
    Hope you are feeling well these days!
    All the best,
    TheKitchenLioness recently posted..FFwD – Scallop and onion tartes finesMy Profile

    • Dear Andrea, I have included a recipe for the spice mix, maybe you overlooked it πŸ™‚ This is a highly flavoured dish and yes, has great depth. If you like these kind of spices, you will most definitely like it. I am doing well, thank you my friend. xx