Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zesty Baked Chicken Thighs

For while we all are adjusting to the new layout

An easy one for today, everyone! I have been doing more interesting cooking, but I can't post about it for another week or so for TOP SECRET REASONS. 

Back to business. While the word "zesty" kind of bothers me, like it's been co-opted by the salad dressing industry, I can't think of a better term for this recipe. In terms of ingredients and method it's quite simple and unremarkable: Herby marinated chicken thighs, roasted in the oven (or toaster oven, if you're like me and live somewhere that is temperate enough for cooler-blooded folks to believe air conditioning isn't necessary). But, I gotta tell ya, this is one of our favorite dinners.

Start by putting garlic, herbs of your choice (I use thyme, rosemary, dried oregano), and lemon zest in your preferred baking dish. 

Quick aside: The rosemary I use came from our mini "Christmas tree" from December. We got it from Whole Foods. It's about two feet tall, and just when I think it is completely dead, I will see two or three green sprigs growing from the top. The other 90% of the tree is dried up and gone and gone can be. 
I used my microplane for both the garlic and the zest. Love love.
Then I add salt (1 tsp or so. More than you would expect!), pepper, and optional other seasonings to taste, like cayenne. I add some plain white vinegar (2/3 cup?), a splash of olive oil, maybe some lemon juice, maybe a little water, and mix it all up. I don't add much oil because I'm using skin-on chicken thighs and they are plenty fatty on their own. Stick a finger in the vinaigrette and taste for salt, flavor. If it doesn't make you go "WOOOP!" (even silently), you need to add more zip in the form of lemon or vinegar or salt.
Yes! You are correct. This is a basic vinaigrette but with less oil and no attempts at emulsification via mustard or egg yolk. Also now that I think about it mustard would be an excellent addition. Good thinking!
I put the chicken thighs in the vinegar mixture and turn them to coat. I even like to make a pocket between the chicken and its skin in order to "scoop" the vinegar so as to ensure the marinade is coming into direct contact with the meat. When I'm feeling fancy, I will snip a slice or two of bacon into thirds and I will slide two of the bacon segments under the skin for a special treat. (That is, two 1-2" slices of bacon per thigh.)
I let it marinate for as long as I can stand: no fewer than two hours, ideally overnight. 
I did sneak bacon into these, hence the block-y shapes underneath the skin.
Then I turn it skin-side up and pour out almost all of the liquid. I do this because I care deeply about browned chicken skin. In order for the skin to brown, it has to be dry. If the skin doesn't matter to you, there's no reason to pour the liquid out... you may even have more flavorful chicken than me because of it! Bake at 375° for 45 mins to an hour.

PSA: You can click this and all other pictures to see a larger version.
Cute, right?
I love this recipe because it's so simple, flavorful, and inexpensive.

But Lenore! Can't you just pour pre-prepared Italian vinaigrette (either from a packet or a bottle) over some chicken and get similar results? Yes. Yes you can. But, you know, what about the chemical additives, nice to control the flavors oneself, yada yada... purchased vinaigrette will absolutely work in a pinch. But maybe squirt some lemon juice (from a LEMON) in there? For me?

Credit where credit is due: I've been messing around with vinegar-garlic-herbs and chicken for a few years, but I gained a lot of traction after dining with some of our friends in Boston in Spring 2012. (Shout out!) My friend prepared a chicken dish which has been in her family for many years and involves marinating chicken overnight in vinegar, an egg, and... maybe a few other things? I forget the precise method, but I had never heard of people cooking chicken in almost pure vinegar before and it was completely delicious! The egg was unusual as well but it was a pleasant surprise---there were five of us eating that night and we couldn't get enough of the chicken and the vinegary juices that came with it. After that night, I got more brazen with my use of vinegar and I worried less about creating a "balanced" marinade.

I'm learning, gradually, that vinegar is a severely underrated flavoring agent. The vinegar (and salt) are, really, 95% of the flavor-infusing battle.

And finally, it was so warm this past weekend (80s) that I did a little sunning on our rooftop deck. With sunblock. I promise! Here's a picture of the water from the roof, unzoomed.
Betcha want to come visit us now!


  1. We did something very similar to this last weekend... but (brace yourself) after marinating the chicken in italian dressing for a few hrs we cooked it on the grill with copious amounts of Sweet Baby Ray's. (You actually wait until the last 10 mins or so to put on the BBQ sauce, but it REALLY stuck and it had amazing flavor.) You need to try this ASAP. It was the best BBQ chicken i've ever had.


  2. I, for one, am devastated in that your chicken was better than my chicken.

  3. "Cornell Chicken" - Canola oil, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, egg, and McCormick's Original Chicken Seasoning. One of my favorite meals!

    Joe and I have also been making this guy recently and it's so good!: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/chicken-cordon-bleu-recipe/index.html