Smothered Chicken and Barley

5 from 5 votes

My Moroccan-inspired smothered chicken transforms regular poultry and barley into an authentic North African feast. Bursting with flavor, this hearty meal features rich, aromatic spices like cinnamon, cumin, garlic, cayenne, and more. Plus, you can make it in just one pan!

Moroccan spiced chicken smothered in barley

Today’s recipe for Moroccan smothered chicken is an easy-to-make and incredibly flavorful dish. It is a simple combination of barley and browned chicken that is brought to life by an all-star lineup of vibrant North African spices including smoky cumin, sweet cinnamon, and fiery cayenne. 

I first found this smothered chicken recipe in an old magazine tear out from the 1990s. I believe it was either Sunset or Cooking Light. I have adapted the spices slightly over the years, but the technique has remained exactly the same — and you’ll easily see why. This recipe delivers tender grains, juicy chicken, and loads of flavor infused into every bite.

For more delicious Moroccan recipes, check out my Moroccan Chermoula Chicken, Moroccan Meatballs, or Moroccan Chicken Stew.

closeup: smothered chicken recipe rubbed with a North African chicken spice blend

Tip From Kevin

Two Cooking Methods

There are two variations of this recipe. You can opt for a one-pan method to make on the stovetop, or bake it in the oven in a casserole form. Instructions for both versions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

overhead: ingredients for this smothered chicken recipe

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Chicken – Boneless, skinless chicken is the way to go for this recipe. I chose thighs because I like the richer flavor of dark meat but breasts are perfectly acceptable. 
  • Barley – Delivers a mild, nutty flavor and chewy texture along with loads of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. You will find barley in two forms: either hulled or pearled. Hulled barley has more of the grain intact and will take about 20-25 minutes longer to cook, making it ideal for the oven method. If you are cooking stovetop, be sure to choose the faster-cooking pearled barley. 
  • Vegetables – Yellow onions, sweet red or green bell peppers, and diced tomatoes give the dish depth and richness while fresh green onions add freshness and crunch before serving. 
  • Spices & Seasoning – Chicken broth and soy sauce infuse the barley with savory, umami tones while the Moroccan spice rub brings the entire recipe to life with garlic, cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, chili powder, and more. A touch of dried mint gives the perfect complimentary pop of brightness.
overhead: Moroccan smothered chicken thighs nestled into grains of pearled barley

How to Make Moroccan Smothered Chicken

Stovetop Instructions

  1. Make the Spice Blend. Use a small bowl to combine and mix all the ingredients for the spice rub. Use half of the mixture to rub the chicken thighs on both sides. 
  2. Brown the Chicken. Place a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and cook the chicken thighs until they are browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Saute the Vegetables. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan along with the onion, bell pepper, and soy sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the onions become translucent. 
  4. Add the Broth & Barley. Add the broth, scraping and stirring in the browned bits from the bottom. Then stir in the pearled barley, tomatoes, and the rest of the spice blend. Nestle the browned chicken thighs in the vegetable mixture, as evenly spaced as possible. 
  5. Cook & Cover. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 50 minutes. 
  6. Rest Before Serving. Remove the pan from heat and remove the cover. Let the chicken and barley rest for at least 15 minutes as the rest of the liquid is absorbed, then top with green onions.
side view: North African smothered chicken recipe plated on a bed of pearled barley

Baked Casserole Instructions

  1. Prepare the Oven. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Brown the Chicken. Brown the thighs in a skillet over medium heat, then transfer to a 13×9 inch casserole dish. Cover with foil to keep warm and set aside. 
  3. Saute the Vegetables. Saute the onions, peppers, and soy sauce in a tablespoon of oil until the onions are translucent. 
  4. Stir in Broth & Barley. Stir in the broth, scraping and incorporating the browned bits as you go. Stir in the barley, tomatoes, and the remainder of the spices. Bring the mixture to a boil. 
  5. Bake. Carefully transfer the barley and vegetable mixture to the casserole dish, covering the chicken. Use foil or a lid to cover the dish, then bake for 65 minutes. 
  6. Cool & Serve. Take Moroccan smothered chicken out of the oven and remove the cover. Allow 15 minutes for the juices to fully absorb. Sprinkle with green onions and serve!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called smothered chicken?

The technique used to make this smothered chicken recipe is known as “smothering meat.” This process, which is a form of stovetop braising, involves cooking meat in a covered dish slowly, over low heat, and with a moderate amount of liquid in the dish. 

This age-old technique delivers intensely flavorful, tender, and juicy meat, seafood, and vegetables.

Where did smothered chicken originate?

While this Moroccan smothered chicken recipe has roots in North Africa, the technique of smothering meat is usually credited to the American Southeast. 

The term “smothered” and the technique of smothering meat has origins in Louisiana with Creole and Cajun cooking. 

If you find this surprising, keep in mind that Creole and Cajun cuisine are fusions of the vibrant African, European, and Native American culinary traditions brought to the area.

What goes with smothered chicken?

Complete with chicken, barley, and vegetables, this hearty dish is a meal unto itself. 

To round out your meal, I recommend adding a simple appetizer like Mediterranean HummusTabouli Salad, and Pita Bread. Moroccan chicken and barley is also great with fresh salads like this Chilled Moroccan Carrot Salad.

closeup: Moroccan smothered chicken thighs and barley on white plate

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Moroccan spiced chicken smothered in barley

Smothered Chicken and Barley

5 from 5 votes
This recipe for Moroccan smothered chicken features savory chicken and tender pearled barley cooked in a blend of warm, smoky spices.
Servings: 6
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 1 hour 15 minutes
15 minutes
Total: 1 hour 45 minutes


Spice Rub



  • Combine the spice rub ingredients in a small bowl and rub the chicken thighs on both sides with half of the spice mixture.

For the Stove Top One Pan Method

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook the chicken until browned on each side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onion, bell pepper and add the soy sauce. Cook over medium heat for several minutes until onions are translucent.
  • Deglaze pan by adding the broth, scraping the browned bits from bottom of pan. Stir in pearled barley, tomatoes and remaining spice mixture. Place the browned chicken thighs in between the vegetable mixture evenly. Bring this to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 50 minutes.
  • Uncover and let stand 15 minutes to completely absorb all liquids. Sprinkle with the green onions and serve.

For the Baked Casserole Method

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook the chicken until browned on each side. Remove from pan and place in a 13×9″ casserole dish. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onion, bell pepper and add the soy sauce. Cook over medium heat for several minutes until onions are translucent.
  • Deglaze pan by adding the broth, scraping the browned bits from bottom of pan. Stir in pearled barley, tomatoes and remaining spice mixture. Bring this to a boil. Carefully pour barley and vegetable mixture over chicken in casserole dish. Cover with lid or aluminum foil and bake for 65 minutes. Uncover and let stand 15 minutes to completely absorb all liquids. Sprinkle with the green onions and serve.



  1. There are 2 different kinds of barley: hulled and pearl. Hulled barley has had the tough, inedible outermost hull removed but still retains its bran and endosperm layer. It is the most nutritious of the two and can be considered a whole grain. A light golden brown in color, it’s the nuttier and chewier version as well.
    Pearl barley has been polished to remove the bran and possibly even the endosperm layers, resulting in a pale, creamy-colored grain. It is less chewy and cooks faster than the hulled variety, but has less fiber, is less nutritious, and is not considered a whole grain. Most people are familiar with pearl barley, especially as an ingredient in beef-barley soup. One cup of hulled barley will yield three cups cooked. Hulled barley can take 20 to 25 minutes longer to cook than pearl and will absorb less liquid. Source: Dana Velden,
  2. This Moroccan spiced chicken recipe is one I found in an old magazine tear out. The ingredients have been adapted over time to suit my tastes, but I believe it to be from either Sunset or Cooking Light, circa 1990s.


Calories: 594kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 32g | Fat: 36g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 148mg | Sodium: 938mg | Potassium: 833mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1274IU | Vitamin C: 43mg | Calcium: 79mg | Iron: 4mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: main dishes
Cuisine: Moroccan, North African
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): Moroccan smothered chicken and barley


I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Hi Kevin! Just searching for Barley/Chicken recipes is how I found you. I can’t wait to try this Moroccan Chicken and Barley recipe to put servings away for takeaway lunches. I have loved using barley and Farro instead of rice for the nutritional profile and flavor. I’ll try to remember to return and review after making this recipe. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. 5 stars
    This is so flavorful! I was a bit short on barley so I used 1/2 barley and 1/2 farro, both pearled. This recipe is a keeper!

  3. 5 stars
    This recipe is really great. Tonight I made it for the first time, and my daughter (who is visiting us) asked after the meal if she could put it away before she ate it all. My only additions to the recipe was to add a half teaspoon of salt, and an eighth of a cup of sliced almonds in the post simmer cool down period. I used hulled barley rather than pearled barley, so I added 20 minutes to the simmer time. This made the chicken thighs a bit more braised than the recipe pictures suggest, but that was all good.

    1. So happy you and the family enjoyed this one Dan! Thanks for taking the time to come back and let me know.

  4. 5 stars
    Kudos to the author for crediting Cooking Light magazine’s recipe printed in the 1990’s. I misplaced my clipping of this recipe and was thrilled to find it here. It’s easy, absolutely delicious, nutritious and so cheap to make! Try it with a drizzle of plain yogurt whisked with a bit of harissa and/or sumac. Thank you for posting 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    I loved this dish. So much flavor and it’s very colorful. I will most definitely make this again.
    A couple of things you could do extra to this dish would be adding additional vegetables and maybe a light cream sauce to drizzle on at the end.

    Thank you!

  6. 5 stars
    will be making this soon with few subs i never had moroccan food before will dm you if i make this and let you know how it goes Thanks Ramya