Chicken thighs are not the exciting upgrade you think they are
So, what’s for dinner? Just kidding, I know it’s chicken. How do you make it? Same way every time? Do you experiment? Are you into sheet pan chicken dinners or are you more about soups right now? I recently had a vacuum-sealed pack of chicken breasts staring at me from within my fridge, smugly challenging me “what, pray tell, shall you make this time?”
In an effort to break the mold, I made skewers inspired by this South African braai chicken recipe with a piri piri rub (and before your eyes glaze over at the sound of things-they-might-not-sell-at-Whole-Foods, the most exotic single ingredient in the rub is cayenne). I served them with smashed roasted potatoes. Yes. Chicken and potatoes. But it tasted and looked new and that’s a win.
Let me just say: Every time I see a fellow Food Writer mention that they prefer chicken thighs to breasts, as though revealing some sort of life hack, I have to wonder…do they realize that it’s just slightly darker chicken meat? They say it like it’s a game changer, as if to say “Oh, you like Impossible burgers? Wait till you try the real thing.”
If we are really to spice up our chicken cooking game, maybe we first turn to actual spices. Make Letitia Clark’s baked chicken with fennel, citrus, and olives, with classic flavors from her adopted home of Sardinia. Or this excellent chicken Milanese, which is simple and crispy and salty, and served with mozzarella and tomatoes. This chicken (above), roasted in parchment, gets sweetness from raisins and honey, with beautiful flavor and crunch coming from pine nuts and carrots. Plus, the presentation.
Switch up the method, too. I love and crave this chicken and zucchini noodle pho from goop. Zucchini-as-noodles is a concept that’s mostly against my religion but in this insanely good soup, I’ll allow it. Make slow cooker chicken tinga or chipotle chicken (above) to use in tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, or over rice with salty black beans and topped with slices of avocado, quick-pickled onions, sour cream. Moroccan-flavored braised chicken, too, is bright and flavorful. Serve with couscous, rice, pita, or simply add a tumble of vegetables into the braise so it all cooks together.
Of course, buying different cuts of meat can change up your routine as well. But go further than thighs versus breasts. Dive into chicken liver and gizzards for Gullah rice, a beautiful dish not dissimilar to jambalaya. Or why not try to make chicken liver mousse, which is easier than I had anticipated. Spread it onto crostini and serve with a bottle of bubbles and a self-satisfied smirk, as I did.
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, my sister recently made us a hefty, ad hoc, and very satisfying salad (with chicken) for dinner. In mere bites, it became my favorite salad. The key components: a mix of bitter and crunchy lettuces, simple vinaigrette with honey and miso, big chunks of tender baked chicken, homemade sourdough croutons. Akin to this Caesar from Smitten Kitchen, but with miso in place of Parmesan. The serving bowl was absolutely enormous. I can’t recommend it all enough.
She served it with a chilled bottle of Italian white wine poured into her impossibly cool glasses and a little glass dish filled with broken up squares of really good dark chocolate. It was all very civilized.
AND NOW, THIS: Another round of Ask Nicole:::
Q: My daughters and I picked way too many mandarin oranges off the trees in our backyard. What should we do besides just eating them??
A: Hmm. My first thought was to unload them on unsuspecting guests, but there aren’t many of those these days. Instead, use a few for this grilled mandarin vodka tonic (above) which looks beautiful and sounds incredible. While we’re boozing, how about a smoked mandarin orange Paloma? Cause, goddamn.
Juice them to make mandarin orange granita (easier than it sounds) with vanilla whipped cream. Cinnamon and orange “tea” is delicious and has many supposed health benefits. Get the kids in the kitchen with you to make orange coconut creamsicles (using Greek yogurt or coconut milk)!
Whatever cuts (or meats!) you get, try something new. It doesn’t take much to change up your dinner game, as long as you’ve got the inspiration ahead of time. And after reading the above paragraphs, I hope that’s exactly what you do have.