I'm always on the lookout for solid, simple weeknight dinner recipes. A winning recipe—the sort I'll file away and return to over and over—needs to meet a few standards.
First, and most importantly: it should be delicious. Second: it should elicit some positive feedback from my better half, who only nods appreciatively or comments when something is unusually flavorful. Third: It shouldn't require any ingredients that I can't get at my local grocery store. Caveat: My local grocery store has a very expansive selection, so this isn't too limiting. But I save recipes that require trips to specialty shops (spice shops, good seafood markets, and so on) for weekends. Fourth: it should be something I can make fairly quickly. It doesn't need to be some super-fast, 30-minute dish, but I hate planning on a recipe only to discover I was supposed to marinate the meat for 12 hours beforehand or slow-cook part of it for 2 hours or something like that.
This recipe, which embodies all of the above, comes from Melissa Clark's very fantastic new cookbook, Dinner: Changing the Game, and you can tell she's a seasoned recipe developer. It's easy to make, and what's more, it's fun to cook. You do just enough prep work to fall into the comforting rhythm of cooking, which helps me unwind at night, but it's not fussy or complicated cooking, so you don't get sweaty and stressed or need to refill your wine glass twice or anything. (I'm just saying, a person might.)
It requires one skillet, and it's versatile enough to fit any of your requirements: You can scale it up or down. You can make it more or less cheesy. You can use bone-in, skin-on thighs or boneless, skinless breasts. You can serve it alone, or over pasta, or with a simple green salad. You can make it extra-spicy or not spicy at all. Best of all, it tastes like pizza! Melissa Clark says it's reminiscent of a classic chicken Parmesan without the heavy breadiness, and this is a perfectly apt description. It hits all the salty, savory, cheesy high notes of chicken Parmesan or pizza, but you don't feel sleepy and too full after eating it.
You'll start the chicken on the stovetop, and then finish it in the oven. That means you can clean up the kitchen, set the table, and pour a drink while it finishes cooking. How's that for a win?
A Few Tweaks
I like to use thick-cut bacon, but pancetta works well. You can also leave out the bacon step altogether, but keep in mind that it does add a nice depth of flavor to the dish. It's hard to pinpoint the flavor of the bacon, but it boosts the savoriness of the chicken. I use a mix of canned tomatoes and fresh tomatoes. If you don't have fresh tomatoes, feel free to use all canned tomatoes. Or, if you have a bounty of fresh summer tomatoes, use all fresh and no canned. Depending on the ratio, your chicken will be more or less saucy. Also, the more fresh basil the better: I sprinkle the finished dish liberally with chopped fresh basil to add some green.
The original recipe calls for anchovies, which is an ingredient I don't keep on hand, so I skip them and add more capers. I like using a little bit of oregano (fresh or dried works) to conjure up more of that pizza flavor. If you prefer using boneless chicken, go for it. Instead of 1 1/2 pounds of bone-in chicken thighs, you'll want about 2 large boneless breasts to match the same weight (1 1/2 pounds of bone-in chicken thighs yield about 12 ounces of meat).
And did I mention that this recipe is wildly appealing to people of all ages? Tell your four-year-old it's a fun version of pizza (and give them a dinner roll on the side to make up for the bread, if he or she makes a fuss). Tell your Italian food-loving husband it's a more sophisticated version of chicken parmesan. Tell your friends it's a cheesy chicken skillet dinner. Everyone wins!
- 1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs (or other bone-in chicken pieces)
- 2 strips thick-cut bacon (or pancetta), cut in pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes (use more or less, depending on how spicy you like it)
- 14 ounces canned whole plum tomatoes
- 2 pints fresh cherry tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus 1 large sprig of basil
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese