© Serge Bertasius | Dreamstime.com
There’s a story out there — probably an urban myth — about a young woman who goes off to college and heads to the dining hall with her new roommate for their first meal as undergrads. As she pushes her tray down the cafeteria line, her eyes widen as she takes in the salad bar. “What is all this stuff?” she asks her new friend.
Her roomie identifies Salisbury steak, lasagna, creamed corn, and chili con carne, but her companion’s blank stare baffles her. Finally, the mystified girl’s face lights up. “There’s something I recognize!” she says, reaching for a baked chicken breast. “I’ve had chicken for dinner for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know there was anything else.”
Given my druthers, that would’ve been me. Chicken was my first true love, one of the only foods I would eat under any circumstance. My kids love chicken, too: stewed, roasted, fried; in soup, on a sandwich. And though it’s hard to imagine a life in which eating chicken for supper every night would make sense, it’s possible to understand a parent deciding to stick with a food her children will eat without griping.
Chicken’s healthfulness, versatility, and moderate cost make it an ideal contender. And unlike some other meats, it’s fairly affordable to buy cage-free, sustainably raised chicken, which tastes better and is easier on the conscience.
Though my dad’s roast chicken and my mom’s Shake ‘N Bake drumsticks (or the occasional KFC) are in my DNA, my own kids are eating a lot of thighs. I use skinless, boneless thighs for curries and tacos, but my current favorite is this preparation of bone-in thighs. It produces skin as crispy as anything Colonel Sanders ever dreamt of.
The process is too simple to be true: rub the thighs down with salt and pepper, put a little oil in a good-sized skillet, and put the thighs in, skin-side down. Unlike the usual technique for browning or frying chicken parts, you don’t need to make sure there’s a lot of room in the pan. Go ahead and jigsaw them in; they’ll shrink as the fat in the skin renders down.
Once you get it on the stove, they’re almost completely no-maintenance — after a while, you flip them and add a little something for flavor. If you can’t find preserved lemon rinds, don’t fret. Try several twists of fresh lemon rind (cut with a vegetable peeler), plus maybe a sprig or two of rosemary and a couple of peeled cloves of garlic. The mission here is weekend-size flavor on a weeknight schedule.
On a recent warm summer night, I served these with some roasted broccoli and a simple salad of fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. As the cooling weather awakens your family’s desire for sturdier fare, consider pouring this dish’s luscious drippings over mashed potatoes and steamed green beans or Brussels sprouts. (Don’t forget the lemon wedges to brighten up the chicken and vegetables’ flavor.) Or follow my grandmother’s lead: She loved to pour chicken drippings on a salad of tender greens, wilting them and making them ravishingly savory. You might just want to eat this every night.
Weeknight Chicken Thighs with Lemon
Adapted from Food52.com
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6-8 bone-in chicken thighs
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Rind from half of a preserved lemon, finely chopped; or a couple of sprigs of rosemary plus optional strips of lemon peel and 1-2 peeled cloves of garlic
- Lemon wedges, for serving
Method Warm a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Rub the chicken generously with salt and pepper and add pieces to the skillet, skin side down. (I squeezed 6 thighs into my large 10” cast-iron skillet.) Cook without moving until the fat has rendered out and the skin is deep golden brown and crisp, 15 to 30 minutes. Check occasionally and reduce the heat to medium-low if the skin begins to burn before becoming golden brown. Turn the thighs over and stir the preserved lemon rind or other seasoning into the fat in the skillet. Continue cooking the thighs until no pink shows near the bone, about 15 minutes more. Serve the thighs and pan drippings with lemon wedges.