Last updated January 2, 2019

This fall dish combines chicken breasts and earthy mushrooms with nutty rice all in a surprisingly delicious pumpkin gravy. You would never know it from the deep, brothy, umami flavors, but it’s less than 350 calories per serving.

Autumn Umami Chicken from ZestuousI love it when you give me ideas for recipes. Just one simple ingredient can spark my mind into a million directions. Friday, after finishing my first week at my new job, Zestie, Jamie Gatti, told me it was time to get cooking again, and she requested a savory fall dish using pumpkin.

Saturday morning, I headed out for my 6-mile walk/run and that’s when my creativity began to soar.

I know pumpkins are traditionally used in pies, but they belong to the squash family, so I immediately thought of squash soup. The difference with pumpkins though is they have more depth and flavor than a standard yellow squash. They have almost an umami character.

Umami is one of our basic tastes. You know, like sweet, sour, bitter or salty. Only recently has it become popular in the U.S. thanks to a heavy marketing campaign by Kikkoman soy sauce. Umami combines a hint of saltiness and a bit of acid, but it’s more than that. It has a well-rounded smooth quality.

When I think of umami, I always think of mushrooms, but now apparently, I’ve classified pumpkins into this category, too. Why not right?

What else could I add to this soul-warming dish? How about rice? I almost always eat short-grain white or brown rice because I like my rice sticky. But neither of those have the great nutty flavor I was looking for, so I used Rice Select Royal Blend. It’s a mix of long-grain white, brown and red rices.

Similar to making risotto, I flavored my rice before cooking it by sautéing the dry rice in cooked onions, garlic and mushrooms. Then, I added the chicken breasts and umami pumpkin broth.

This dish was a really fun experiment, but it required more testing than normal.

Test one

I cooked this batch in the oven, but the broth was too liquidy, so I added cornstarch.

There was too much broth and not enough substance, so I added more rice and chicken.

Test two

I cooked it on the stove, so I could adjust on the fly, but the rice stuck to the pan before the chicken finished cooking, so it’s better cooked in the oven.

Since I added soy sauce, it was too salty, so I reduced the kosher salt from 2 teaspoons to 1.

I was able to use less olive oil and decided not to use cream or white wine. This kept the calorie count down, but the flavors were still great.

Test three

Finally, test three was a success. I cooked it in the oven and mastered all the flavors. I have 11 extra servings, but that’s okay. It will freeze well, and I can heat it up for lunch or dinner.

This dish is Autumn on a plate. The chicken was juicy, the mushrooms and rice were so nutty and mellow and the creamy pumpkin broth was smooth and savory…in a word it’s…Umami!

This dish can probably be prepared in a Crock-Pot, too. I would still sauté the onions, garlic and mushrooms and sear the chicken. But then, you could put it in the Crock-pot for a few hours on high or longer on low.  You just want to make sure the rice is tender and the chicken is done. If anyone tries this technique, please let me know.


Pound the chicken breasts so they are somewhat equal proportion. If you get a double breast from your butcher, you should be able to cut it into 8 4-oz. breast pieces, and you’ll have a few extra trimmings for another dish.

You can use any type of mushroom. I tried it with both baby bellas and criminis. Both were great.

You can use any long-grain rice, but it was really good with the Rice Select Royal Blend.

If you like heat, add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper to the broth before baking.

Autumn Umami Chicken

Yield: 6 servings

Serving Size: 1 cup rice 4 oz. chicken

Autumn Umami Chicken


  • 6 4-ozs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15 mushrooms, sliced (2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups Rice Select Royal Blend Rice
  • 1 15-oz. can pure pumpkin
  • 1 32-oz. box low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken breasts.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the chicken to the pan and sear for 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

Add the onions and garlic and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.

Add the rice and stir until coated, about 1 minute.

In a large pitcher, combine the pumpkin, broth, spices, cornstarch, milk and soy sauce.

Add the chicken to the pan. Pour the pumpkin broth into the pan.

Cover and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour, until chicken reaches 165 degrees.

Spoon the rice onto a plate and top with a chicken breast.