Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pan-Seared Chicken Thighs with Garlic/Lemon Pasta

Make this ... and you will  be happy!

The pan sizzles. It sputters. It pops. My stomach grumbles. Beneath the lid, I know precisely what's going on. The chicken skin is caramelizing--rendering its fat to become bacon-crisp. The meat is being steamed, juicy and tender.

When "I want dinner and I want it NOW!" this is the recipe I turn to, sometimes twice a week. Pan-fried chicken thighs. A chicken thigh is still less than one dollar and offers a juicy, meaty cut of meat. Seasoned well and with the skin oh-so-ever crisp, I never tire of that first crunch when I bite into it.

Served with simple pasta and veggie, it's really a wonderful dinner any time of the year and done within 30 minutes. And in one pan ... and a lid! Easy clean up!

A lot of the fat (schmaltz) from the thigh will be left behind in the pan. That deep caramelization of the skin will intensify the actual taste of chicken, which is so often tasteless and bland. Season the underside any way you wish, but do not be stingy. And, as I always say with chicken, use thyme.

This technique is pure Jacques Pepin, best friend to Julia Child.

The pasta is simple enough and is actually my "everyday" pasta. In the summer, I throw in some fresh basil and cherry tomatoes. You can vary the cheese, too. Feta works well and, if you have them on hand, some Kalamata olives. You really can't screw it up. And it is only one more pan for clean up ...
  • 2-4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (I have only used two)
  • Dried, savory seasonings of your choice (be very generous and think KFC and one hundred herbs and spices, but not hot and spicy unless that is what you prefer)
  • 4-6 ounces spaghetti
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • Lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley for garnish
Using a sharp knife, cut along each side of the thigh bone being careful not to cut through to the skin on the other side. Scrape back the meat on the top of the bone. You just want to release the meat a bit from the bone so that it cooks evenly. The bone adds a lot of flavor. (I do this every time I cook thighs.)

Season liberally. Here are some seasonings I use: Bell's, Cavendar's, Old Bay, Montreal Chicken Spice, fines herbes, garlic and onion powder, smoked paprika, Aleppo pepper. But whatever I use, I always add a dried thyme flakes. Chicken and dried thyme just go together.

Place thighs in a cold non-stick skillet, skin side down, over medium-high heat. Do not add any oil of any kind. After a minute or so, move them around to make sure they are not sticking. When they begin to sizzle a bit, dial down the heat to low/medium. Cover. Cook for 16-18 minutes without turning. It's tough. You will want to fuss ...  Don't. 

The temperature will depend on your pan. If it's heavy, you can dial up a bit more than if it's thin. I have an electric stove, and I usually cook them around the number-4 mark. This may take some practice. Just do not flip them.

When done, give a quick turn to simply sear the bottom. Remove to a plate, cover, and allow to rest several minutes before serving. Save fat in pan to add to pasta.

Outdoor grilling can dry out a thigh
even though it gives a great crunch
and a bit of a burn. Here,
the temperature and cooking is controlled.


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a heaping tablespoon of salt. Add your pasta and partially cover the pot.  When it returns to a boil, reduce heat just a bit to prevent it from boiling over. Cook until done, about 7 minutes or so. I do not subscribe to "al dente" pasta. I like it cooked through and soft.

In a medium bowl, add your garlic, one tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons butter and a good teaspoon of Kosher salt along with several grinds of pepper or Aleppo pepper for a bit more kick and flavor.

Remove a bit of water from pasta pot and reserve.

Drain pasta. Add to bowl with garlic mixture and toss. Add a bit of the 'schmaltz' or chicken fat from the pan to the pasta. Add several fine grates of lemon peel (not juice) and a generous handful of Parm/Reggiano cheese. Taste for salt. Add some chopped parsley. If you don't have any, chop up some celery leaves to add.

If your pasta is done before your chicken, add a bit of the pasta water before serving to loosen it up. Don't be afraid to add a drizzle of olive oil over pasta when plated.

Notes: One day I will make a wonderful sauce from remnants of the chicken pan. You might want to give it a try.


Katie said...

I really have to do more with chicken thighs. These look delicious.... and much juicier than the breasts. Garlic and lemon - perfect combo!

Kitchen Bounty said...

Katie: I think thighs and wings are the best parts of the chicken!