Chicken

For Perfectly Braised Chicken Thighs, Memorize This Technique

August 31, 2017

When it comes to chicken, some cooks are beholden to the breast, but I’m a thigh girl—no ifs, ands, or buts.

I get the appeal of breasts. They’re easy on the eyes, unfussy, and dependable—the food equivalent of having a crush on the pretty-boy next door. Thighs, on the other hand, are rougher around the edges. Their sexy-ugly lumpiness might scare you a little, and you may not be sure quite what to do with them, but you’re drawn to them anyway. In other words, chicken thighs are the Dylan McKay to breasts’ Brandon Walsh.

But in terms of cooking, there are a few actual technical reasons why skin-on, bone-in thighs get a leg up: they’re fattier (read: more flavor), their dark meat is versatile and forgiving, and they’re affordable. Hence, why thighs always best the breast.

Lastly, once you master how to braise them, you—and your chicken—are golden. It’s the ideal method for getting crisp skin and tender, juicy meat. Case in point: a recipe from renowned NYC chef Marco Canora, which started my thigh infatuation. In his Mediterranean braise, thighs are seared in a cast-iron pan, turned and joined with whole cloves of garlic before being taken out. Onions and lemon slices are sauteed to add flavor, then the chicken thighs and garlic go back in the pan along with some olives and a squeeze of lemon. To finish it off, the whole thing goes into the oven at 350° F to finish cooking. It’s the perfect one-pan meal.

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Top Comment:
“Just washed, deveined and tossed in around the chicken? Or dressed with oil, salt etc first? Does it come out crispy sorta like roasted kale chips or soft like a braise (maybe a bit of both I’d guess). Thanks!”
— cmac
Comment

What I discovered after making the recipe a couple of times, first with his exact ingredients, is that his technique is foolproof. Every single time, the skin gets crisp and browned. Every single time, the meat is juicy and cooked all the way through. But as with all types of cooking, the fun begins when you start to experiment: You can try other aromatics (leeks, shallots), add-ins (beans, potatoes, greens, herbs, capers), and liquids (wine, stock, vinegar) to mix up the flavors, while still getting a perfectly cooked piece of chicken.

Once you have the technique down, the thigh’s the limit.

One of my favorite versions is also Mediterranean-ish in flavor: I slide some dill sprigs under the chicken thigh skin before I sear it. I still use garlic and lemons, but substitute the onions for leeks and add in some canned chickpeas. Kale goes in 15 minutes before the dish is done baking. Then I serve it all with chopped fresh dill and a dill-lemon-yogurt sauce.

But that’s just one variation. Once you have the technique down, the thigh’s the limit.

Here’s what you’ll need to braise like a pro:

  • A cast-iron pan
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 whole peeled garlic cloves
  • Aromatics and vegetables (onions, beans, greens, potatoes)
  • Liquid (lemon juice, wine, stock, brine)
  • Finishing sauce (optional)

STEP 1: SEAR THE CHICKEN

Set the oven to 350° F and heat the oil in your cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. I always pat the chicken dry, and I like to stuff fresh herbs under the skin for extra flavor—but it’s a nice touch, not a requirement. Season both sides of the chicken aggressively, then plop it down in the oil, skin-side down, and DO NOT MOVE IT for about 8 minutes (this is more time than Marco recommends, but I like my skin really crisp). Seriously. Let it sizzle. If you attempt to move the chicken, it’ll stick to the pan. Turn the chicken over and toss in the garlic cloves (if using). Let them get nice and brown while the other side cooks for 3 to 4 minutes more, then remove the chicken and garlic from the pan.

Resist the urge to meddle. Photo by Julia Gartland

STEP 2: Cook the AROMATICS AND VEGETABLES

This step is where you’re going to really build flavor. Marco’s recipe uses sliced onions and sliced lemons. (I’d recommend sticking with the lemons, because as they cook, their juices release all the browned meaty bits at the bottom of the pan.) Start with your alliums, like leeks, onions, or shallots, then build from there with beans and/or vegetables of your choosing. Add briny elements, like capers and olives, towards the end of this step. If you’re going the greens route, don’t add them until about 15 minutes before the chicken is done in the oven. Otherwise, they’ll get soggy. The chicken needs about 45 minutes in the oven, but cooking time will depend on the heartiness of your vegetables (potatoes and other starchy vegetables will take longer). You want everything to be just shy of cooked all the way through so it doesn’t break down too much in the oven, so make sure you taste and test along the way.

You don't have to go with Mediterranean flavors. Photo by Julia Gartland

STEP 3: FINISH THE BRAISE

Nestle the chicken and garlic back into the pan, and pour any juices that have released from the bird over the top. Dress the entire thing with a couple of tablespoons of liquid (if using lemon, the juice of one will do). Put the entire pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is done.

You don't *need* the sauce hangin' out there in the corner, but it's a nice addition. Photo by Julia Gartland

STEP 4: MAKE A SAUCE

To be honest, chicken braised in this way is so flavorful that you don’t actually need a sauce. But with my chickpea version, and with others, I’ve made a yogurt dipping sauce that brings everything together. My version is essentially 1 cup of yogurt, juice from 1/2 a lemon, 2 tablespoons chopped dill, and a pinch each of salt and pepper—but any kind of yogurt-based sauce works here.


STEP 5: EAT

Spoon a thigh and some vegetables onto your plate, making sure to get some of the pan juices as well. If you’re using, sprinkle some fresh herbs over the top. When you cut into the chicken and hear the skin crackle, you know the thigh is right.

Get this technique down, then tinker. Photo by Julia Gartland

How do you like to prepare braised chicken? Let us know in the comments!

42 Comments

Grace C. October 31, 2018
i am making chicken cacciatorri usually i coat my chicken parts in plain seasoned flour and braise it until its ' browned remove from pan then add to the sauce.
 
Grace C. October 31, 2018
making cacciatori but im going to add the braised chicken to sauce.
 
mike August 28, 2018
Cooking times are way off. 8 mins on medium high and the skins were burnt. I cook it in the oven for 20 mins after all the steps and the chicken temp was at 190 degrees.
 
Fer C. August 16, 2018
Isn’t there an issue with using lemon juice or any acidic food on a cast iron pan?
 
Gary D. June 26, 2018
Honestly......... I pray that some of the bloggers here do not have to make a life saving decision.. Braise or Roast? Oh my!! please enlighten me on the 60m chicken thigh!! what to do, what to do???? It's chicken thighs in the oven for cryin' out loud. Make you own decisions
 
Bob B. January 8, 2018
I don’t understand how this is a braise and not a roast. There seems to be too little liquid for braise. Also, about 60 minutes cook time seems excessive for 4 thighs, I’d think they would be over cooked at that point. Sounds delicious and it is on my list to try
 
PS007 January 8, 2018
It's not a braise, and people are making this way too difficult. Cast iron is great cuz it's very forgiving. Sear, add veggies/aromatics/liquid, finish in oven. Done.
 
Bob B. January 8, 2018
Thanks PS007. It doesn’t sound like a braise, but yet the title says it is. I didn’t know if I was missing something or it was just misleading.
 
Jon July 16, 2018
Scrolled down to comment that this is absolutely not a braise. I don't know if the author just doesn't know what a braise is, or what, but this is clearly a roast.
 
cmac January 7, 2018
Hi Karen,<br /><br />Could you say a little more about how you add the kale? Just washed, deveined and tossed in around the chicken? Or dressed with oil, salt etc first? Does it come out crispy sorta like roasted kale chips or soft like a braise (maybe a bit of both I’d guess).<br /><br />Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Karen P. January 8, 2018
Hi there! I typically just wash and devein and toss it around the chicken. It comes out nice and crispy, which I like because it adds a bit more texture. I hope this helps!
 
Victoria C. January 6, 2018
I don’t braise chicken thighs. THIS is what I do for what I think is the best way to cook them. I use the brand Smart Chicken Organic Air-Chilled Thighs. (When I lived in NYC, I used D’Artagnan Air-Chilled Thighs, but they are not available here.) First of all, I preheat my oven to 400°F. I usually use my Breville Smart Oven for this; I don’t if I’m making more than four thighs. If I am making four thighs, I take my 10-inch Lodge Cast Iron Skillet and add a TINY amount of peanut oil. I push the oil around with a paper towel so the skillet is shiny from the oil, but there is no depth of oil. Next I take two pieces of aluminum foil (they are from Costco and already cut into pieces; that is why I use two) and put them in my sink. Then I put the chicken thighs on top of the foil (keeping the chicken from touching the sink itself) and pat them dry with paper towels; they are already pretty dry as they are air chilled. I pour a LITTLE peanut oil over them and add whatever seasoning I want. Sometimes it’s only salt and pepper. Sometimes it’s Morton’s Season-All (no sugar), garlic powder, salt and pepper, and a little Greek oregano crushed between my fingers. You can use anything you particularly like. (Susanna here comments that she uses fennel with chicken, and I’m going to try that the next time as I love fennel. Check out Cara Nicoletti’s recipe here for pork loin. It’s a killer diller, and I add fennel seed to that.) Then, using my hands, I rub the oil and seasonings into the chicken, all over front and back, wash my hands, and heat up the skillet. When the skillet is hot, I place the four thighs in it. I don’t move them around at all. After about two minutes, I put the skillet in the preheated oven and cook until the skin is VERY crisp, usually 1 hour, basting occasionally until all that’s left is the fat floating free. It’s delicious hot, at room temp, and cold, but if you’re feeding two, don’t assume you’ll have leftovers. I never buy boneless thighs. If I need boneless thighs I bone them myself following J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Eats. I often make Michael Ruhlman’s Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs but use buttermilk instead of yogurt since I can get Kate’s Buttermilk and always keep it in the fridge. I serve chicken cooked almost any way with lingonberry preserves, the way you serve cranberries with turkey.
 
Richard C. January 17, 2018
Say again,,,,,
 
Susanna January 5, 2018
I like to do my thighs with shallots, fennel, orange slices, and green olives. Sometimes smoked paprika as well. This time of year is making me want to try some pomegranates with the citrus, and maybe walnuts, too.
 
Author Comment
Karen P. January 8, 2018
I'm going to try this! Sounds delicious.
 
Tammy A. December 29, 2017
Is there a place to print this recipe?
 
jeanneo December 30, 2017
I am wanting to print the recipe as well. Otherwise, it is 4-5 pages. Is that available?
 
Barb January 7, 2018
Cut and Paste into word, remove the pictures.
 
PS007 October 9, 2017
Funny, I've been doing essentially this same thing for years and people love it. They always ask for the recipe and I tell them I make it different every time. Sometimes olives, beans, tomatoes, but always chicken thighs, fresh herbs and lemons. The trick is, you HAVE TO HAVE a cast iron pan. Yes you can make it in something else, but it's NOT the same. Cast iron is magic IMO. It lends a different flavor than other vessels, but the real beauty is that it's so forgiving it's almost impossible to mess it up!
 
Anne-Marie September 10, 2017
Thyme under the skin...leeks, mushrooms, green peppercorns and orange slices, chicken stock. 10 minutes before removing from oven added pine nuts, chopped sage and chives. Maldon salt just before serving. Lovely comfort food. As Beth mentions will be using about 1/2 tbsp. of oil next time !
 
Beth September 7, 2017
I made this last night. It was delicious, except I used a little too much oil so everything was kinda greasy and my tummy didn't like it too much. I added carrots, onion and several red potatoes cut in half, lots of Italian seasoning and some chicken broth. It wasn't as brown as the picture although I browned it for at least 10 minute before turning over. Next time I'll use much less oil, brown a little longer, and everything else the same. Otherwise, great recipe.
 
Your O. September 6, 2017
Just reading this tempts me to run to the store for chicken. Alas, stores close at night here in Vermont. My question: really fuzzy on the aromatics/veggies step. Cook them before nestling the chicken for the braise? Braise time, 45 minutes, is a long time. Can you please be a little more specific, say, using your chickpeas & kale as a guideline? Thanks!
 
Michael D. September 7, 2017
I'll share what I did, just yesterday. <br />I added the leeks, lemon and onions, seasoned lightly, sautéed just a few minutes, added fresh herbs, threw the protein back in, then squeeze of whole lemon, then to the oven, uncovered. Don't be fuzzy, be joyful! You'll be fine!
 
Karen M. September 8, 2017
Thanks for this. I was Fuzzy on it too. But it all feels pretty intuitive now.
 
M September 6, 2017
If adding potatoes, at what point do you put them in the pan?
 
Michael D. September 6, 2017
Are you asking me or Karen
 
Michael D. September 7, 2017
I'd sautée the potatoes for about 5-8 minutes depending on the size of the cut. Then aromatics and such for another 2/3 then get the thighs on top then to oven. Otherwise those potatoes will be over cooked and terribly starchy.
 
Michael D. September 5, 2017
Just sat down to this albeit simple yet brilliant plate of comfort food. Thank you for inspiring me to such unassuming and tasteful heights. I paired it with a simple Manchego red bliss whipped potato. Can I post pics??
 
Beth September 5, 2017
When adding veggies, do you put the chicken back right away and place in the oven, or do you cook the veggies a little on top of the stove first?<br />I only have a cast-iron frying pan, will that work?
 
Sky C. September 5, 2017
Maybe a stupid question but do you lid the pan to braise in the oven?
 
Chris H. September 7, 2017
Yes.
 
Author Comment
Karen P. September 7, 2017
I actually don't put a lid on the pan so the chicken skin stays crisp and doesn't steam. But if you try it with a lid on, let me know how it comes out!
 
Leah C. September 5, 2017
I found that if I start with a cold, dry pan (no oil) when searing the chicken skin side down, I don't get as much of an oily mess around my stove. And keep the heat low.
 
Author Comment
Karen P. September 7, 2017
Great tip, Leah!
 
Sweetie September 5, 2017
Awww don't have a cast iron pan. Do I need to go buy one, then learn the one and outs of cast iron pans first? I have a lecreuset braised..will that works??
 
Author Comment
Karen P. September 5, 2017
A Le Creuset braising pan should work just fine as well!