These 30-Minute Skillet Chicken Thighs Are Far From Your Average Weeknight Dinner

They'll only set you back 5 ingredients and 30 minutes.

January 10, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

We've partnered with Ajinomoto Co. Inc. to celebrate our favorite taste—umami—with a series that digs into its history, its complexity, and its many, many culinary applications. Here, we’re giving weeknight chicken a crispy, umami-rich upgrade with some help from garlic chips, a squeeze of lemon, and a dash of MSG.

For anyone who looks to dinner as respite but whose day makes it hard to come by, here’s a gift: A chicken dinner that’ll dirty one pan, set you back 30 minutes, and requires fewer than five ingredients. It isn’t a boring meal of necessity, though—a byproduct of busy lives and impatience. Thanks to a few savvy choices at the grocery and in that single pan, it’s anything but.

First, choose bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs over breasts. They have lots of skin that’ll crisp up to cracklins, and their dark meat won’t be at risk for drying out or overcooking. Those natural merits clinch the win when paired with a back-pocket pan-frying technique, which I learned from Canal House. Season the thighs, set them in a not-yet-hot pan, and try not to peek. Flip once, and you’re done, sort of: There’s now a shatteringly crispy skin on top, thighs well on their way to being perfectly cooked, plus a puddle of slowly rendered, seasoned chicken fat in the pan, thumping with possibility.

You could pour that schmaltz into a jar, saving it for another dinner, another day. Or you could use it to fry up a tangle of crunchy garlic chips to go with those juicy chicken thighs, turning your weeknight meal into something worthy of a dinner party. The flavor combo nods to classic Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, without requiring you to braise your ingredients until they’ve reached the texture of baby food. You only need four cloves for this version, but the flavor delivered seems like 40.

Last but not least: While a sound recipe, quality ingredients, and good cooking can turn minimal elements into a memorable meal, secret weapons are highly encouraged. For these crispy chicken thighs with their special-feeling garnish of garlic chips, this comes in the form of a simple squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of MSG. Lemon lightens and brightens, while the MSG heightens the umami—aka, deliciousness—of whatever it touches. (Especially ingredients like chicken and garlic, that already naturally contain umami.) Consider this step dinner’s safety net; if your plate is ever whispering “womp womp” to you, just hit it with some acid and umami.

To make it a meal, a salad of bitter or baby greens would be great on the side. Just toss the greens with the lemon and olive oil you already have out, along with another sprinkle of the MSG. And if some garlic chips mosey over to the salad, kismet!

We've partnered with Ajinomoto Co. Inc. to spark new conversations about MSG and bring you a series of recipes, stories, and videos that celebrate the fifth taste: umami. This rich, savory essence can be played up in almost any dish by adding a dash of MSG, a seasoning that's pure umami flavor. When cooking with MSG, note that MSG contains less sodium than regular table salt, and you can use a combination of the two for an instant flavor boost. The general rule of thumb: Use one part MSG and two parts table salt. You can also learn more over at the Umami Information Center and World Umami Recipes on Instagram.

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The Dynamite Chicken cookbook is here! Get ready for 60 brand-new ways to love your favorite bird. Inside this clever collection by Food52 and chef Tyler Kord, you'll find everything from lightning-quick weeknight dinners to the coziest of comfort foods.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • KR
  • Audrey Nelson
    Audrey Nelson
  • Anthony Donnelly
    Anthony Donnelly
Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


KR May 8, 2019
You gotta be kidding me!!!!!!!!!!
Absolutely not!!!!!!!
For several reasons, including being allergic to the stuff.
My mind is completely boggled that a prolific and popular cooking site filled with great cooks, recipes, & advice has a sponsored post as well?????
(I don't usually swear in public, but here it is: WTF???)
Audrey N. January 20, 2019
MSG is a dangerous chemical which fools your brain into thinking it tastes good. Any cook who is used to identifying the herbs and spices used in the food on her tongue knows that there is nothing really there when MSG takes over. It is a cheat, and dangerous. This chemical caused headaches and heart palpitations in me before I abandoned it. My daughter, having never heard of MSG, nevermind tasted it, discovered it caused her visible and agonizing muscle spasms for hours after ingestion.
Anthony D. January 24, 2019
Your 100% spot on. It is a cheat As long as they have their crispy skin they don’t care. Don’t get me wrong I like crispy skin on the chicken but seems to be that’s all they’re fascinated with it. And I think it’s your responsible for them to embrace the use of MSG.