White or dark? When it comes to ordering chicken off a menu, it seems that is the inevitable question, and for the most part, people are quite opinionated about their preference. Without any research to back me up, I would guess that the breast meat wins out, and is why it sells for a premium in the supermarket meat case. But I rarely purchase my chicken pre-cut and opt for the do-it-yourself method that gives me plenty of pieces and parts for my favorite Cajun recipes (and for homemade chicken stock).
Dismantling a whole chicken is something I enjoy doing in the kitchen; it appeals to my pioneer instincts. With a sharp boning knife, I can dispatch a 4-pound bird in no time at all. With an arsenal of recipes, the breast meat is the prize in my family, and the wings ultimately wind up in my fryer. The back, wing tips, neck, and any trimmings are destined for my stockpot. But the leg quarters (especially the thighs), are most often stuffed in a plastic bag and shoved in the back of the freezer for the next chicken gumbo.
So why is it that the dark meat is the second-class cut of the bird? After all, they are the juiciest pieces of the chicken that retain flavor long after the breast meat has dried out. I contend that with the right preparation, they become the star attraction on your dinner plate.
My experimentation with chicken thighs led me to the conclusion that the fat content within the meat cooks slowly resulting in an oily taste and texture that is off-putting to many palates—mine included. To remedy the problem, my method requires a long rendering of the fat in a cast-iron skillet. The pan should be cold from the start, and I use no oil. Just place the chicken in the skillet on low heat, and push it down to make maximum surface contact by putting weight on top of it. After a long, slow rendering, the fat is removed and helps the skin crisp to a crackling crunch.
And for my Crisp Chicken Thighs, a tomato-infused Creole jasmine rice is the perfect bed to rest these thighs on. Grown and milled by my friends at Supreme Rice from Acadia Parish along the western edge of Acadiana, Louisiana jasmine is a hybrid rice similar in taste and fragrance to Asian jasmine with a nutty aroma (the smell alone will call your guests to the table). When cooked down in stock, it has a small-grain, textural quality that is perfect for this Cajun recipe.
So give this Crisp Chicken Thighs technique a try and shed some well-deserved light on the dark side of the chicken.
- 2 cups white Louisiana jasmine rice, such as Supreme
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 tablespoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1½ cups water
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1 (10-ounce) can mild diced tomatoes with green chiles, such as Ro-Tel
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken leg quarters with thighs
- Kosher salt
- ½ cup chicken stock
- ½ cup diced green onion tops
- In a large pot with a lid over high heat, add the rice, onion, Cajun seasoning, chicken stock, and water. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook undisturbed until the rice is done, about 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, lift the lid, and stir in the chopped fresh tomatoes and the canned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Cover and keep warm until serving.
- Using a sharp paring knife, slice around the leg bone about an inch from the end and peel back the skin and meat. Cut away any tendons. Pull the skin down to the end of the leg bone, and using kitchen shears or a heavy knife, slice off the tip end of the bone. Push up on the rest of the leg meat and expose the bone. Season the chicken pieces lightly with salt.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- Add the chicken to a cold (not preheated) cast-iron skillet, skin-side down. Weigh down the meat to make maximum surface contact by placing a pan (that is a bit smaller than the diameter of the skillet) on top of the chicken. Add weight to the pan (canned vegetables stacked up works well) and push down.
- Turn the heat to medium and let the chicken cook undisturbed for 20 minutes. You will hear sizzling and see oil leaching from the skin, but do not be tempted to check the chicken.
- Remove the pan from the heat and, using a metal spatula with a sharp edge, scrape up the chicken pieces along with the crust and fond underneath. Flip them over and inspect that the skin is browned and crispy.
- Add the chicken stock to the skillet and place in the oven to roast uncovered until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165ºF, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a platter to rest.
- For serving, add the rice to the cast-iron skillet and lay the chicken on top. Place in the oven long enough to warm through, about 5 minutes. Garnish with diced green onion tops.
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