Chicken thighs have everything in spades: price, flavor, succulence, culinary versatility, and they are very, very hard to overcook. Try it for kicks—cook and cook and cook them and they just become more tender and fall off the bone. Chicken breasts, on the other hand, go from done to stringy in a hot minute. While bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs have the best flavor (not to mention all the free schmaltz that renders out of the skin when you crisp it), the boneless skinless variety is now available in many shops.
Chicken thighs have so much dinner flexibility that you could whip up a veritable United Nations of meals with one pack of thighs: Thai coconut curry chicken, French coq au vin, Chinese chicken stir-fry, Moroccan chicken tagine, Indian tikka masala, and arroz con pollo in the style of several different Latin American countries. Thighs have just enough fat clinging to them to add an unctuousness to every dish. You can opt to brown whole thighs before building your dish to render out the delicious chicken schmaltz from the skin and add an extra layer of caramelized meaty flavor, or just nestle pieces of the boneless-skinless variety (uncooked) into a simmering base for a gentler flavor.
To prove the point of thigh superiority, I cite a personal story: Last year, during a summer jaunt to the Adirondacks with two other families (which included a total of 4 chefs), we were put to the chicken thigh test. We had each been tasked to arrive with the fixings for one dinner to share (the nearest grocery store was 40 miles away). And what did we all pack in our coolers? That’s right: packs and packs of chicken thighs.
No one complained, even after night #3, because those thighs turned into the very different meals of roasted chicken shawarma, grilled lemon-rosemary-garlic chicken, and finally, the chicken and green olive paella recipe below. Chicken thighs play well with every ingredient under the sun, so this is a dish you can riff on to your heart's content.
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 pinch saffron threads, crumbled (optional; we know it’s expensive)
- 1/2 cup green olives, pitted or not (with or without the red pimento)
- kosher salt
- 6 whole chicken thighs
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch strips
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups short-grain white rice (like Italian Arborio or Spanish Bomba)
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/3 cup dry (fino) sherry
- 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, or equivalent canned
- 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed