Propellers Chicken and Rice—the concept and the dish—has reached legendary status at Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). You could say it’s blasted off into new atmospheres of flavor and broken the sound barrier on student appreciation. Every year in March, the Sodexo team at ERAU hosts the Chicken and Rice festival. Students on campus manage fan pages for the dish on social media. It’s a simple menu item that has seen three decades of success, overseen by Nabil Guirguis, longtime member of the foodservice team
More than $200 of Chicken and Rice t-shirts were sold at this year’s event; raffles and giveaways and prize wheels amped up the excitement, and an “Angry Chickens” table allowed students to flick toy chickens at cups, aka “the clucking hilarious target game.” But at the heart of all the impressive marketing and razzle dazzle is the iconic chicken and rice dish that started it all: Marinated chicken breasts with tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and then students can choose from lots and lots of hot sauces.
“We started the chicken and rice way back, and it’s the same thing every time; we don’t change the recipe,” Guirguis says. “The students started to come for it, and it just got famous. And it’ll be the same if you get it tomorrow or you get it next week,” he says, emphasizing the need for consistency in ingredients and portion size and citing fast-food giant McDonald’s as his inspiration for that very important aspect of college and university foodservice.
“I used to work at a Turkish restaurant in Kuwait, and I told the owner that we need to be like McDonald’s in terms of consistency to be successful,” Guirguis says. “Now the guy is a millionaire.”
The students are so wild for it that traditional “Taco Tuesdays” have become “Tzatziki Tuesdays.” When Chicken and Rice goes off the menu—for example one summer semester—students can and will protest, according to ERAU Sodexo Marketing Director Candice Kingery.
American Dining Creations Chef and catering mastermind Jonathan Pye recognizes chicken and rice’s cozy, comforting and homey vibes as it contrasts with an adventurous, globe-spanning wanderlust.
“Chicken and rice has such a homecooked feel to it,” Pye says. “It just takes you back to your childhood and is very nostalgic. And then you can go in a million different directions with rice, from soups and stews to fine dining and then ethnically from Indian dishes to the Mediterranean, rice paired with chicken is a winner whichever direction you go.”
Pye’s takes on chicken and rice include prosciutto-wrapped chicken with wild rice baby zucchini and champagne sauce; Korean bibimbap with chicken, rice, roasted ‘shrooms, gochugang spinach, radishes, bean sprouts and bibimbap sauce; and Thai chili-chicken skewers with jasmine rice and baby veggies.
The perfect rice for your signature chicken and rice dish may not be rice at all. It could be quinoa (any grain, really), couscous or cauliflower “rice,” as found in Morrison Healthcare’s fajita-spiced chicken and (riced) cauliflower bowl, leaning into the healthy bowl trend in a fun, spiced-up way.
Morrison Healthcare chefs have also been swapping in whole grains, as in a spicy-sweet chicken and quinoa bowl, while still using traditional white rice in other bowls, like the new hibachi chicken and rice bowl from Kazan, Morrison’s new hibachi concept.
UCLA Chef Joey Martin makes rice the star in aromatic spiced chicken with snap peas and forbidden rice. Sounds so intriguing, right? Forbidden rice is black and provides a dramatic backdrop for a plate of spicy orange chicken with Chinese five-spice and sizzling Szechuan pepper.
And sometimes, rice can be (gasp!) pasta! HHS Chef Eric Pierce uses orzo in his rustic rendition of roasted chicken and rice.
PS: Adding turmeric to plain white rice bumps up the health halo and gives it the cheeriest, most optimistic yellow color.
Let’s hear it for halal
No discussion of chicken and rice as an icon would be complete without giving halal a shout-out. At Michigan State University, Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski and the team offer a lot of halal options, and has created something new and fresh for spring, a mashup called the caprese halal chicken grain bowl. With seasoned halal chicken, fresh mozz, basil and a balsamic glaze, this is a great way to step into summer with chicken and rice power.