When I say I don’t have time to cook, I really mean that I don’t have time to clean up. Chicken thighs are my go-to for no-fuss roasting, braising and grilling. While boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the traditional cuts, the humble legs and thigh are easier to cook because they don’t require the same care and attention.
Cooking white meat can be tricky. Turn your back to toss a salad and it can dry out in a blink. Dark meat chicken is lower-maintenance and less expensive. When roasted over seasonal vegetables, dark meat cuts make a fine one-dish dinner, the skin caramel crisp, the meat juicy and tender.
Given the variety of fresh, locally grown herbs at our co-ops and markets, I can make a different variation of this recipe every night of the week (and often do). When roasted on a bed of vegetables — sweet potatoes, mushrooms, white potatoes or onions, alone or in combination — the meat’s pan juices meld all the components together in a satisfying dish.
The key to success is the quality of the meat. No doubt, the type of chicken and the way it was raised and processed influences its taste and texture. Overall, organic, free-range birds make the best choice. The flavor is richer and the texture firmer. While these birds may cost a little more than conventionally raised chickens, pound per pound they’re less expensive than other kinds of meat.
Keep in mind there a few simple steps when cooking this dish. About 30 minutes before cooking, rinse the cuts and pat them dry with a paper towel. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Then set them on a plate, uncovered, so they come to room temperature. This helps the skin dry out a little so that it crisps up in the oven and helps the cuts cook more evently.
Start them in a hot oven; high heat helps sear off the skin to retain the juices. Then lower the heat and let the cuts continue to cook (this will keep them juicy and tender). With dark-meat chicken, you have a wider margin of error; it can be held in a warm oven for a long time.
The chicken is done when the skin is crispy and the meat is no longer pink at the bone. The juices should run clear when pricked with a knife, and an instant-read thermometer reaches 165 degrees, about 45 to 55 minutes.
Every good cook has an assortment of chicken recipes. Now add this to yours.
Orange-Ginger Chicken Thighs With Sweet Potatoes
Note: Vary the vegetables that roast with the chicken. Right now, local sweet potatoes are still available. When spring comes in, try baby turnips and new potatoes, and serve garnished with watercress and sorrel. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 to 3 tbsp. butter, softened, divided
• 2 lb. sweet potatoes, sliced 1/4-in. thick
• 4 to 6 green onions, white parts only, sliced thin
• 3 to 4 chicken legs and thighs, with bones and skin
• Coarse salt
• Ground pepper
• 1/4 c. fresh orange juice
• 1/4 c. chicken stock
• 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
• 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Lightly coat a shallow baking dish with a little of the butter. Lay the sweet potato and green onion slices on the bottom of the dish. Rub the remaining butter over the chicken and place the chicken on the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a small dish, whisk together the orange juice, stock and ginger, and pour into the dish.
Roast the chicken until it begins to brown and some of the fat has been rendered, about 20 minutes. Baste with the pan juices, reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and continue roasting until the skin is crispy, the meat is no longer pink at the bone, the juices run clear, and an instant-read thermometer reaches 165 degrees, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Variation: Substitute a mix of baby turnips and new potatoes for the sweet potatoes. Also use dry white wine instead of orange juice, plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme for the cilantro.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 285 Fat 11 g Sodium 170 mg
Carbohydrates 25 g Saturated fat 5 g Total sugars 6 g
Protein 21 g Cholesterol 105 mg Dietary fiber 4 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ carb, 3 medium-fat protein.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.