A Chicken Thighs Recipe With Mediterranean Flavor
FEB. 27, 2015 | City Kitchen | By
A good cook needs an assortment of chicken recipes up his or her sleeve. It’s fair to say that most carnivores like chicken, but even chicken fans prefer a bit of variety, a break from the familiar roasted, fried, grilled.
Evan Sung for The New York Times
Braising chicken is a technique to master. The simple process of browning the meat, then adding liquid and gently simmering, ensures tenderness and succulence.
Most people I know agree that the thigh is the choicest part of the bird under most circumstances. I find that chicken thighs make the best braises, and I recommend using skin-on bone-in thighs for the best flavor. (In these days of skinless boneless everything and fear of fat, these unadulterated thighs are scarcer than before, but persevere; they can be found.)
One of the best chicken braises I know uses a broadly Mediterranean approach. The classic combination of chicken with lemon and olives is found throughout the region, but a minor tweaking of the basic recipe is all it takes to give this braise a regional accent.
The example given here is Italianate: rosemary, garlic, fennel seed and red pepper. Marinate the thighs, surround them with lemon wedges, and brown them in the oven. Add a handful of green and black olives and a ladleful of chicken broth. Simmer a bit. The result: earthy, herbaceous, lemony. Serve with polenta.
To give the same dish a more Provençal profile, use thyme sprigs rather than rosemary and choose oil-cured black or tiny niçoise olives. Serve with potatoes or egg noodles. For a North African feel, use large green olives and add toasted ground cumin seeds and hot paprika. Serve with flatbread or couscous.
As for lemons, any kind may be used. Meyer lemo
ns are nice, since they are sweeter than others and the soft skin is mild enough to eat. But ordinary Eureka lemons are fine, thinly sliced, as are rinsed salt-preserved lemons cut in small cubes.
Of course, you should try to get the best chicken you can. Choose organic, free-range, heritage birds when possible. Even at $4 a pound, that’s far less expensive than other prime cuts of meat, and you are more likely to get flavorful chicken if it is of noble provenance. Free-range birds generally have firmer muscles than cheaper “factory style” birds. If you have tasted chicken in other countries, you know that firm meat and flavor go hand in hand.
Once you are hooked on the chicken-lemon-olive theme, you’ll find many more ways to practice it. Imagine, for instance, a chicken sandwich smeared with a garlicky chopped olive tapenade and a dab of bright lemony mayonnaise. You get the idea.