I cook so often for people it’s always a treat when someone cooks for me. Case in point is my close friend Chris Boghosian. Chris is not only one of the best people I know, he’s also a wonderful cook. I’m lucky enough to have him drop by at least twice a month for dinner. About half the time I’m able to cajole him into doing the cooking.
I’m also lucky because while he loves my kitchen and loves cooking here, he’s often irritated I don’t have some utensil or device he wants to use. Which means he usually shows up with said utensil or device as a gift so he has them on hand when he works his magic in my kitchen.
(Yes, there is a method to my madness. I’ve even added three incredible knives to the kitchen this way, thank you Tiffiny, Tee and Dennis.)
When Chris cooks, I usually request his chicken thighs. They are, simply put, The. Best. Chicken. Thighs. Ever. Chris makes light of this in his recipe below, but don’t let him fool you. I am not being overly hyperbolic here. It’s the truth.
So without further rambling on my part, here is Chris (with a couple of italicized asides from me):
Best. Chicken. Thighs. Ever.
So Tom, in his hyperbolic way, called my pan-fried chicken “Best. Chicken. Ever.” on Facebook today.
Not sure about Best. Ever., but I admit: it’s delicious. Even better, it’s super simple. And like all delicious, yet simple recipes, its goodness lies in a few vital details. Let’s begin…
1) Start with bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. (Thighs, people… use thighs.) If using breasts, consider cutting in half if they are large, since the tapered side of chicken breast cooks much more quickly than its thickest part. Pat dry the chicken if overly moist and place in a bowl.
2) Generously salt and pepper the chicken.
Vital detail #1: use fresh ground black pepper, which imparts its oil and aroma.
Vital detail #2: use a lot of salt; I estimate about 1/2 teaspoon per piece, maybe more. The idea is to create a salty crust, a salty punch before each bite.
Vital detail #3: use excellent salt. Remember: not all “sea salt” is high quality; I often joke that salt derived from the polluted waters off Los Angeles is still “sea salt.” Personally, I love “Real Salt,” “Celtic Sea Salt,” and “Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt,” the latter being very affordable. (Chris introduced me to the wonders of sea salt. It’s great.)
Vital detail #4: rub salt and pepper beneath the skin, perhaps needing to loosen the skin first. Then be sure to evenly spread out the skin, “ironing out” skin folds – the idea here is to be sure you have as much “skin surface area” as possible when cooking.
3) Optional: add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs per piece, any combo of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (like the song!) along with chopped garlic. (This isn’t really an option, it’s a must! The herbs go both on the skin and under.)
4) Heat a heavy-bottom skillet at medium-high.
Vital detail #5: the more dispersed the heat at the bottom of the pan, the better each and every piece will crisp up. Thus, I’m not a fan of a cast iron skillet for this recipe, since they tend not to evenly disperse heat. Also, consider using the largest gas/electric burner.
Vital detail #6: be certain the pan gets really hot before doing anything else! Most pans will take a few minutes to get really hot. Be patient.
5) Add oil. I prefer a high quality olive oil for this recipe, though nearly any vegetable oil will work. And be sure to add enough to coat the entire pan.
Vital detail #7: because the pan is so hot, the oil will begin to smoke almost immediately; therefore, be sure to have your chicken nearby.
6) Immediately (and carefully!) add chicken, skin side down. The temperature of the pan will dramatically drop; therefore, keep the temp at medium-high.
Vital detail #8: don’t touch the chicken; be patient. Most people are tempted to poke, prod, and move meat around while it cooks, but not here. Like a moody teenager, leave the chicken alone, allowing the pan to regain a high heat and fry up that skin!
(This is always my biggest problem when cooking chicken or meat in a pan. I don’t have patience. Remember, the chicken will release when it is ready. If you try to turn it and the skin is sticking, leave it alone! Wait for it to release on it’s own.)
7) Monitor the chicken. This is where experience comes in and you’ll need a few attempts to master this recipe. In a nutshell, you want to keep an eye on the chicken, flipping it only a few times. Only after the skin is golden brown should you flip. In my experience, it takes about 15 – 17 minutes per side, sometimes more. Be patient. Don’t poke and prod.
Vital detail #9: pans and ranges differ, so if your chicken is browning too fast, in under 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium. I suspect you’ll have to do this if cooking with an electric range, for example.
8) Test for doneness. It’s advised that chicken be cooked to 165-degrees. I prefer using a thermometer and if you don’t have one, I strongly recommend the Thermapen. And remember, meat will increase in temperature after removing from heat, so consider pulling the chicken off the pan at around 155-degrees.
(This means let the chicken sit a good 5 or 10 minutes before you eat it! Americans don’t like letting meat rest. So most meat is overcooked, because we pull it off right when it is ready. Even if you start eating right way, it is still going to keep cooking!)
There are lots of details in this otherwise simple recipe, but all things good comes at the cost of a little extra effort. Hope you enjoy!!!
Christopher… Tom’s Best. Friend. Ever.
Tom’s note: Have some cooked white or brown rice on hand. While the chicken rests a few minutes, toss the rice into the pan and sauté it in the pan juices. Wow, what a great side. These chicken thighs, the rice, a green vegetable and a garlicky salad is an absolutely perfect meal!