Japan's Chicken Doria Isn't Your Average Gratin

Comfort foods are the culinary world's weighted blanket. They can vary from place to place, but comfort foods from around the world are almost always nostalgic and evoke a contented sigh. Foods that fall into this category are often warm, brothy, buttery, cheesy, carb-heavy, or some combination. 

Japan's chicken Doria hits a lot of these comforting notes. This dish has much in common with a gratin since it features a creamy base and a bubbly cheese topping. However, this dish incorporates rice, which is not typical of a gratin, and makes it seem more like a casserole. Let's just call it a gratin that took a trip to Japan and became the best version of itself.

Perhaps the best part about chicken Doria is that it is endlessly customizable. The combination of short-grain rice, a luscious sauce, tender chicken, savory vegetables, and melty cheese come together in a single baking dish for a delicious, easy, and satisfying meal.

The origins of chicken Doria

While the name Doria might suggest European origins, the dish originated in Japan. Doria was created by Saly Weil, who was the first chef de cuisine at the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama. The first version of Doria included shrimp cooked in a cream sauce served over buttered rice pilaf. Weil had a Swiss background but is credited as being the father of Western-style Japanese cuisine, called yōshoku. This distinctly Japanese take on Western food has become a culinary genre in its own right. Other popular yōshoku dishes include omurice, korokke, and hambagu. Omurice refers to an omelet dish filled with rice, korokke is a stuffed and fried potato croquette, and hambagu is a Japanese take on beef hamburger steak.

There are conflicting accounts of where the name Doria actually comes from. Some say it was borrowed from a totally unrelated French dish that was created to serve the Genoese Doria family. Others say Chef Weil named Doria after a general in the Italian Navy. Regardless, this delicious baked rice dish became a hit both in yōshoku restaurants and Japanese home kitchens.

How to make chicken Doria

Typically Doria uses Japanese short-grain rice, often labeled as sushi rice. The structure and starchiness of this type of rice help keep the final dish moist and creamy. You could use any rice, but short-grain rice is your best bet.

Chicken is super convenient and delicious as a protein option. You may have some leftover meal-prepped chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken in the fridge that could easily be upgraded here. For different versions of chicken Doria, try adding sautéed vegetables like mushrooms, onions, carrots, and spinach. However, vegetables can easily stand alone if you're craving a vegetarian Doria. Shrimp, scallops, crab, or salmon make yummy seafood versions of Doria, too.

The sauce for Doria is usually a simple, creamy Béchamel, but you could also use a Bolognese sauce or a creamy tomato sauce. A classic Béchamel sauce is made with flour, butter, and milk, which you probably already have on hand. As for the cheese, any melting cheese like mozzarella is typical, but you can mix and match based on what you have at home.

To make chicken Doria, start with a casserole dish and layer rice, meat, and sauce, then top it with cheese. All the ingredients should be cooked first, so the Doria only needs to be baked to warm everything through. Finish under the broiler for the crispy cheese moment you deserve.