Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pan-Seared Chicken Thighs with Garlic/Lemon Pasta

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.

A lot of the fat from the thigh will be left behind in the pan, the 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. The technique is pure Jacques Pepin.

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.

  • 2-4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • Dried seasonings of your choice
  • 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 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. 

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, cayenne. But whatever I use, I always add a pinch or two of dried thyme flakes.

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. 

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. 

When done, give a quick turn to sear the bottom. Remove to a plate and allow to rest several minutes before serving.

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 tablespoon of salt. Add  your pasta and cover partially. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat just a bit to prevent it from boiling over. Cook until done, about 7 minutes or so.

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.

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 'smaltz' or chicken fat from the pan to the pasta (optional). Add several fine grates of lemon and a 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.