2018 was a hell of a year. It felt like a trillion years long. I considered writing up a post taking stock of things, but to be honest, I am not up for that emotional rollercoaster, so screw that. I’ve had a year of questioning a lot of what I am and am not good at, where I can get better, where I need to get stronger, what kind of a person I am, and who I want to have in my life. And that is fucking exhausting. I also started a new full-time demanding but incredibly fulfilling job, which has also pushed me more than I have ever been pushed before. But you know what I am CERTAIN I’m really good at?
Cooking chicken thighs. And I want to share the wealth of my knowledge with all of you, because we can’t let dry, bland chicken into the new year with us. It’s just not right. What do we want? MOIST CHICKEN. When do we want it? All the time, tbh.
Chicken thighs are my absolute favorite food to cook, and, to be perfectly honest, to eat. I don’t know, there’s just something about the salty, crispy skin and the succulent, moist meat on the inside that tastes like utter perfection to me.
So how do we get there? Well, first, you will need some basics.
(I’m going to tell you what I did THIS time (see above picture), but I will indicate what is always necessary for a good chicken thigh, and what is not. I did go a bit further this time because I was, let’s face it, cooking my feelings. Huzzah for healthy coping mechanisms!)
You start, if you can, with a cast iron pan. If you don’t have one, you can use whatever kind of pan you want, as long as it is oven-safe.
This time, I used an enameled one (my most precious prized possession, my Le Creuset pan). A lot of the time, I use a pure cast iron one.
– Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. This is important, because the skin and the bone are KEY here
– olive oil!
– (plenty of) salt & pepper
This is where you start, but I definitely recommend adding other seasonings of your choosing. Have fun with it! I’ve used everything from cumin to coriander to, like, curry powder, and everything in between. And remember: SALT. Chicken wants salt, and plenty of it. (I always use Kosher salt, it is delish and strong.)
This time, I went FANCIER than usual, and first, I braised three leeks (green parts cut off, the light parts cut into half-inch rounds, washed). I used my Le Creuset pan for everything, btw, so here’s another tool if you choose to do leeks:
– a large plate for later
BEFORE I FORGET! Preheat the oven to 385F / 196C.
Melt a pat of butter and add a glug of olive oil in the pan on low heat, then once the butter melts, throw in the prepared leeks. Let them get tender for 5-8 minutes, and when they start browning and sticking a bit, make a bit of space in the middle of the pan and deglaze it with some white wine. Deglazing is just adding a bit of wine & then scraping up the brown bits with a wooden spoon. But it sounds FANCY, yannow? Then let them braise in the wine until they’re pretty tender, and the alcohol has burnt off. This smells like heaven, btw. (You can also have some wine yourself at this point. Not that I’ve ever done that or anything.)
While the leeks do their thing, prep the chicken. Pat the thighs dry with paper towels, then season them generously on both sides with whatever spices you’ve chosen (not forgetting to be very generous with salt!) You can do less seasoning on the bottom side, but remember — chicken loves salt, and we love well-seasoned chicken.
Once the leeks are well-softened, turn them off and transfer them to a large plate. (You will be ahead of the game because you will have prepped it, unlike me, who wandered the kitchen aimlessly wondering what to do with the leeks. I found a plate.)
So. Here come the CHICKEN THIGHS. Excite!!
Add another glug of olive oil, and let it heat up at medium-high heat. Heat it until it passes the water sizzle test – if you drop a drop of water into the oil, it should sizzle. Once it’s ready, you put the chicken in skin-side down. Try not to overcrowd it, it’s better if the thighs have some room (they like manspreading, what can I tell you).
Now comes the hardest (for me) bit – letting them do their thing and not. Touching. Them. This is CRUCIAL, and it takes a while. You HAVE to let them brown. Probably longer than you think. You can occasionally look at them, but be patient. You really want them to get brown and crispy! And OH SO DELICIOUS.
Once you feel like they’re browned enough (and then waited another few minutes), you flip them and brown the other side. This takes less time since all you’re really looking for is for the chicken to take on a BIT of color.
Now: if you did the leeks along with me, this is where, once the thighs are no longer raw on the bottom, you take them out, put them on…oh right. Another plate!..and transfer the leeks back into the pan, spreading them out. Then you put the chicken back onto them, so the leeks can get all those delicious chicken juices seeped into them while in the oven. OM NOM NOM.
Occasionally, I will also put some fresh herbs in the pan alongside it – I am pretty obsessed with thyme at the moment, so it’s what I added, along with some rosemary. Just tuck a few sprigs somewhere in the pan, and you’re good to go. Now you get to stick it in the oven and enjoy the rest of your wine while the chicken cooks!
It takes about 20-30 minutes in the oven. If you have a meat thermometer, it should reach a temp of 165F/ 74C. You want to check the temperature as close to the bone as you can – that’ll be your true reading. If you don’t have a thermometer
tell me and I’ll get you one just poke a thigh a bit with a fork to see if the juices run clear. If they do, you’re all set.
Let the thighs rest a bit, then devour with a side of your choice and more of that wine, as is only proper.
You don’t need to add the leeks or fresh herbs or wine every time. The important bits are a) oven-safe pan, b) SALT!, c) PATIENCE. The browning at high heat is what seals in the moisture, the salt is what makes the flavors pop, and the oven-safe pan retains all of the juices beautifully.
Please let me know if you try this and how it goes! Show me pictures! What a bright spot in a rather bleak world sharing recipes and enjoying food together.
So, dear reader, HAPPY NEW YEAR, and here’s to no more sad, dry chicken 2k19 \o/