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Why skin-on chicken thighs are the best weeknight protein

This recipe for Honey Soy Chicken Thighs creates tons of flavor, fast.
Honey soy chicken thigh [MICHELLE STARK  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Honey soy chicken thigh [MICHELLE STARK | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Feb. 11

The longer I live, the more I realize that chicken thighs are the perfect protein.

And not the skinless, boneless kind, which frankly do not even belong in our grocery stores. The skin and the bones are where all of the flavor lives, and cooking a chicken thigh without them denies the cut of meat its true potential.

Skin-on chicken thighs, like some pork and the fattier cuts of beef, can cook right in their own fat, the skin slowly rendering and coating the skillet with a healthy amount of oil.

That fat, or schmaltz, serves two purposes: It allows the chicken skin to get nice and crispy, an exercise in patience (don’t move the thighs for at least 15 minutes!) for which you are richly rewarded, and it leaves behind a perfect starting point for a finishing sauce, or a flavorful way to cook up other components of your meal.

It’s why chicken thighs are my go-to weeknight meat option. Relatively hands off, I can get them cooking skin side down in a hot pan while I figure out what the rest of the meal is going to look like, knowing I’ll have a good amount of schmaltz with which to work after the chicken is done cooking.

This recipe takes full advantage of that, cooking chicken thighs in a skillet then removing them and adding a bunch of aromatics to create a salty, sticky, sweet glaze.

It’s a template, really, for any kind of glaze or sauce you want to gin up. You could throw some thinly sliced red onion in there, or some finely diced sweet potato. You could go the Italian route and fry up a bunch of sliced garlic and halved cherry tomatoes. Or add a handful of chopped kale to the skillet, stir just a couple of times and finish things off with a squeeze of lemon.

I usually serve these chicken thighs with a leftover grain — rice, farro, quinoa — and a heaping plate of green leaf lettuce. The glaze you’re making doubles as a sort of dressing, and don’t be afraid to use it warm. Tossing the warm glaze with the fresh greens will wilt them slightly, which sounds kind of weird but is rather addicting, the sweet-salty-fatty mixture a good contrast for crisp lettuce.

Honey Soy Chicken Thighs

4 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on

Salt

Black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced into rings

3 large cloves garlic, grated or finely minced

1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated or finely minced

¼ cup honey

¼ cup white wine or apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

¼ cup scallions, roughly chopped

About 4 cups red or green leaf lettuce, or escarole, roughly chopped

Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Drizzle the olive oil into a large skillet set over medium heat and let it heat up slightly.

Add the chicken thighs skin side down and let them cook without touching them for about 15 minutes, until the skin is crisp and deep golden brown. Flip the thighs over and cook until the meat is cooked through, about another 10 minutes.

When chicken is done, remove and place on a serving plate. Set aside. Reserve chicken fat in the skillet.

Add jalapeno, garlic and ginger to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes until the aromatics are soft. It shouldn’t take long.

Add honey and vinegar and whisk until combined. Add soy sauce and whisk again. Lower heat to medium-low and cook just for a minute or two, until glaze has tightened up a bit.

Remove from heat, stir in scallions and taste. Season with more salt and pepper as needed.

Add greens to a medium bowl. Spoon half of the glaze over greens and toss gently. Divide greens between serving plates with the chicken. Drizzle remaining glaze over chicken and serve.

Serves 2.

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times

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