I have enhanced this recipe to add more flavor to both the rice and the sauce. You could leave out the sauteed garlic, onions, carrots and celery that is added to the rice, but it is going to be flat in flavor. There are only enough vegetables to add flavor and not over power the rice. You might want to consider adding a half cup of frozen petite peas to the rice for a little color and additional flavor. This is a rich dish, it needs something to offset that richness. You could do this with pork chops, or sliced pork loin also (do not over cook them when browning and still use the chicken flavors).
6 to 8 small chicken thighs or 3 chicken breast, cut into large strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 teaspoons garlic, minced and divided
1 stalk celery, finely chopped, optional but will add texture and flavor to the rice
1 small onion, finely diced, optional but will add flavor and texture to the rice
1 carrot, diced, same as above
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
3 teaspoons thyme leaves, divided
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup milk
½ cup half and half
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine, optional
3 cups instant white or brown rice, prepared
Fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Prepare rice according to package. Enough to cover the entire bottom of a deep 9×13-inch glass baking dish (4 servings).
In the meantime, in a large skillet heat enough Olive Oil and butter to cover the bottom. Pat chicken with paper towel to dry. Add salt and pepper on each side of the chicken to flavor. When the Olive Oil and butter are hot, turn heat down to medium to medium-high and add chicken skin down in the pan. Brown and sear for 5 minutes on each side until chicken is golden brown but not cooked through (this locks the flavor into the chicken itself. The chicken does not have to be cooked through because it is going to spend at least an hour in the oven.) Remove chicken and set aside.
Add the onions, celery, carrots and 1 teaspoon of the minced garlic, saute for 5 minutes on medium, to deglaze) turn the heat to medium high and then add 1/2 cup of chicken broth to deglaze the pan. Add the 1 teaspoon thyme and stir. Add to the cooked rice.
Prepare sauce with cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soup to a bowl. Whisk in the milk and half and half. (optional: 1/2 cup dry white wine) Salt and pepper to taste. Add the last 2 teaspoons of minced garlic and the remaining 2 teaspoons of thyme. Finally the sliced fresh mushrooms. Stir.
With a paper towel, brush a small amount of olive oil around the bottom and sides of the baking dish. Add just enough sauce to coat the bottom then add rice mixture and spread out to cover the bottom. Add chicken to the baking dish on top of the rice and pour sauce mixture over all. Cover with foil and cook for about 40 to 45 minutes, uncover and cook for an additional 20 minutes.