If you guys are sick of average chicken dinner after average chicken dinner, let me introduce you to our new best friend: Creamy Poblano Chicken with Cilantro Rice Pilaf. We sear chicken breasts in a little bit of butter, then simmer them in a ridiculously delicious poblano cream sauce studded with caramelized onions and sliced poblano peppers. The dish is perfect on its own, but to make sure we get every last drop of that poblano cream sauce, we serve the chicken on top of an easy rice pilaf sure to become a new staple in your side dish repertoire.
I fell in love with using poblano peppers in cooking years ago, so be sure you don’t miss out on some of our other favorite poblano recipes like this Creamy Roasted Poblano Pasta, these Slow Cooker Poblano Chicken Tacos , and these Fajita Chicken Sliders with Poblano Queso.
Creamy Poblano Chicken
If chicken is on the menu this week (I mean, why wouldn’t it be?), then I must insist you try our Creamy Poblano Chicken. This (sort of) unassuming skillet full of chicken in what appears to be a mystery green sauce is actually perfectly seared and crispy chicken breasts swimming in a herby, spicy, citrusy, and seriously delicious poblano cream sauce.
The green on green on green action is, admittedly, not my best food photography moment, but trust me, this sauce was made for slurping, drinking, and finger licking. It’s THAT good.
Because every cream sauce needs something to soak up all the saucy remnants smothered on the chicken itself, instead of you know, any of the aforementioned actions, we also whip up a super easy orzo and cilantro rice pilaf to serve below the creamy poblano chicken. However, the rice pilaf is not necessary. What is necessary? Serving it over SOMETHING. I’ve listed some favorite ways to serve it in our ‘Substitutions’ section below.
Are Poblano Peppers Hot?
Before we get started on the bones of our poblano chicken, we should probably discuss what exactly a poblano pepper is. I think a lot of people assume that because a poblano pepper is technically a chili, it’s super hot, but it’s not. It does have some heat to it, but it’s actually a super mild chili that’s kind of a cross between a green bell pepper and a jalapeño. I find it has a slightly sweet note to it, similar to a green pepper, but then there’s an underlying punch of heat you get, as you continue to eat it. Definitely my favorite chili pepper to cook with.
When dried, they actually transform into an ancho chili pepper which is super smoky, sweet, and only slightly spicy. Our Shredded Beef Enchiladas with Ancho Chili Sauce are arguably the best enchiladas on the planet, so I urge you to give their dried sibling a try as well.
Like any chili, it can vary in spice from pepper to pepper, so it’s really important to taste a little piece of the pepper before you cook with it. Here’s a little trick: The deeper green your poblano pepper, the less spicy it will be. If you see hints of red or yellow on it, that means, it’s ripened longer and the spice is much stronger.
What if I can’t find poblano peppers?
So poblano peppers are super common these days, but if you can’t find them, you can also swap out a anaheim pepper in a pinch. I typically find them near the jalapeño peppers and other specialty peppers and chilis.
Ingredients in Creamy Poblano Chicken
Butter. You could use butter, olive oil, or a combination of both to sear the chicken breasts. Butter does burn a little bit easier than olive oil, so you’ll just need to watch out for that.
Chicken. For this recipe, I use four small chicken breasts. Chicken thighs would also work great. If your chicken breasts are really large, you could also cut them in half lengthwise to get four thinner breasts. Just remember, the thicker the breasts are, the longer they will take to cook.
Poblano peppers. We use poblano peppers two ways in our creamy poblano chicken recipe. First, we roast them and puree them in the sauce, and second, we slice them up a similar size to our onions to simmer with the chicken.
Onion. We use one whole yellow onion, sliced thinly.
Cilantro. I know everyone has their thoughts on cilantro, but it’s one of the pillar ingredients in our poblano cream sauce. When it’s pureed with all of the other ingredients, you really don’t get an aggressive cilantro flavor.
Chicken stock. We always use low-sodium chicken stock, because you want to control the amount of salt that goes into your dish.
Cream. Heavy cream gives our poblano chicken that rich, luxurious taste and texture. We only use about 1/2 cup so there’s not need to swap it out for something else.
Lime juice. We really need a punch of acid to cut the richness in our poblano cream sauce, and it only makes sense to use a little bit of lime juice.
Honey. Sauces are all about balance, and a little bit of honey is what balances out the citrus, spice, and creaminess perfectly. If you don’t have honey, you can use regular sugar, brown sugar, or even little bit of maple syrup.
Let’s Make Creamy Poblano Chicken!
Roast the poblano pepper
Roasting the poblano is the first thing you want to do since it needs time to cool and release the skin from the flesh.
If you have a gas stove, turn the burner on and keep the pepper over the flame until it chars. You want it black on all sides.
If you don’t have a gas stove, no problem. Turn your broiler on and roast the peppers on the top rack until they are blackened on all sides.
Once the peppers are charred, transfer them to a large plastic baggie or a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let them steam while you sear the chicken. Once they’ve sat for about 10 minutes, pull them out and peel the skin off. Take out the membranes and seeds as well.
Sear the chicken
Add little bit of butter or olive oil (or both!) to a large skillet over a medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the chicken. Sear until it’s golden brown, flip and do the same on the other side. Pull the chicken out. Also, don’t worry if the chicken isn’t cooked through, it will simmer in the sauce later.
Cook the onions and pepper
Once the chicken is seared, add a little bit more butter or olive oil to the pan and sauce the onions and peppers. After they’ve cooked for a few minutes, throw in the the garlic.
I like to add the garlic later since it can burn easily, and it really only needs a minute or so to sauté before it can simmer with the sauce.
Make the sauce
While the veggies cook, transfer the peppers to a blender along with a handful of cilantro, salt, and a little bit of chicken stock. Pour back into the pot and then add the remaining chicken stock, cream, lime juice, and honey.
Simmer the chicken
Add the chicken back and then simmer the chicken and sauce until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened. As always, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- If you like a lot of spice, try adding 1/2 a jalapeños to sauce. I’d recommend roasting it in the same manner as the poblano peppers. Add it to the blender, a little bit at a time until you get your desired heat level.
- Because we add honey simply to balance out all the flavors in the poblano chicken, it doesn’t make the sauce sweet. If you do want it a little sweeter, just add a little bit more honey.
- The chicken breasts are fully cooked when an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees.
- While we recommend serving this over the rice pilaf (in the recipe card), you could also serve it over cooked pasta (our garlic parmesan angel hair would be DELISH). Our mashed potatoes would lovely as well.
- You COULD swap out half and half if that’s all you have on hand. Keep it mind, it curdles much easier than heavy cream. When you add an acid, like lime juice, to dairy, it’s immediate instinct is to curdle and turn to buttermilk, so I’d hold off adding the lime juice until the very end if you decide to use half and half.
- As always, don’t forget to season! Season the chicken. Season the veggies. And definitely season the sauce. The key to a really well-layered dish is layers of seasoning!
- 2 large poblano pepeprs
- 3 tbsp olive oil or butter, divided
- 4 chicken breasts
- 1/2 large onion, sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock, plus a little bit more if needed
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1 cup packed cilantro leaves
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tbsp butter or olive oil
- 1/2 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup jasmine rice
- 1/4 cup orzo (regular or whole-wheat)
- 1 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- Large skillet
- Slice one poblano pepper into thin strips.
- Roast the other pepper: If you have a gas stove, turn the burner on and keep the pepper over the flame until it chars – you want it black on all sides. If you don’t have a gas stove, turn your broiler on and roast the pepper on the top rack until it is blackened on all sides. Once the pepper is roasted, transfer to a large plastic baggie or a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let steam while you sear the chicken. Once they’ve sat for about 10 minutes, pull them out and peel the skin off. Take out the membranes and seeds as well.
- While the peppers steam: Heat a large skillet over a medium heat. Add two tablespoons butter or olive oil. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepepr. Once the skillet is hot, add the chicken. Sear until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Flip and do the same on the other side. Sear until cooked through, another 3-4 minutes. Take the chicken out and set aside. Don’t worry if the chicken is not cooked through, it will simmer in the sauce later to finish cooking.
- Once the chicken is seared, remove from the pan, and add remaining tablespoon of olive oil or butter to the pan. Add the onions and sliced peppers (the sliced peppers you did not roast and steam). Saute for about 5 minutes until softened. Season with a little salt . Add the garlic and cook another minute.
- While the veggies cook, transfer the ROASTED poblano pepper to a blender along with cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup chicken stock. Blend until smooth. Pour the pureed pepper mixture back into the skillet with the sliced peppers, onions, and garlic. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock, cream, lime juice, honey, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the chcken breasts back to the skillet with the sauce, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through. It should read 165 degrees on an instant read thermomter. If needed, add a little bit more chicken stock to loosen the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice pilaf, pasta, or mashed potatoes.
- Heat a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Add butter. Add the onion and garlic. Saute 1-2 minutes until softened. Add the orzo and rice. Toast until slightly brown, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and 1/4 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the rice steam for about 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add cilantro and lime juice. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.