Asparagus

The Crispy Skillet Chicken I Could Eat Every Single Night

With asparagus, bacon, and schmaltz-fried potatoes.

April 23, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

You can cook chicken thighs a million and one ways, but there’s one method I turn to over and over: a cast-iron skillet and surprisingly low heat. I first learned this Genius technique from my co-worker Kristen Miglore, who learned it from Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer.

Basically, you salt-and-pepper the thighs, place them in a pan over medium heat, and leave them alone. Fast-forward 15 to 30 minutes later and the skin is as crispy as a potato chip. Flip, cook a little longer, and you’ve got the best chicken thighs of your life.

The obvious follow-up question is: What do you serve them with? But the better question is: What do you do with all that rendered chicken fat?

I’m supposed to tell you to put it in a jar and keep it in the fridge for future sautéed vegetables. But any time I do this myself, I forget about said jar, and end up asking my husband three weeks later, “What is this?” (I don’t know.) “Can I throw it out?” (Uh, sure.) And into the trash it goes.

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Top Comment:
“For two thighs, I melt a teaspoon or so of fat in the skillet, over medium heat, and add the salt-and-peppered (and rubbed, if you like) thighs when the fat is hot (it should sizzle, not splatter, when you add the thighs), leaving them to cook undisturbed on the stovetop for around 5 minutes, until the skin starts to brown. I pour the rendered fat over the top of the thighs, then jiggle them with tongs, to make sure they haven't stuck to the skillet, before putting them into a 400-degree oven. After 15 minutes, I turn them once, so they are skin-side up, and cook for another 10 minutes. Easy as pie. (I always discard all the fat at the end but like the idea of cooking croutons in it; I find a simple green salad the perfect accompaniment to thighs.) ”
— Mary H.
Comment

Using the chicken fat immediately not only avoids this unfortunate fate, but ties the whole dish together. Such was the idea behind this weeknight favorite of mine:

Instead of using olive oil to pan-fry the croutons and sautée the kale: chicken fat to the rescue! I love how that rich flavor connects the components—and, you know, the fact that you get to reuse the same pan is pretty cool, too.

This recipe is just like that, but make it spring. Instead of wintry kale, we have plucky asparagus. And instead of torn bread, there are tiny potatoes. Bacon joins the party because bacon is delicious.

Bacon also gives us another flavorful fat to play around with. Think of it like a rendered fat relay (what, like your high school didn’t have those?). Cook the chicken thighs, then smash-fry the potatoes in that chicken fat. Cook the bacon, then sauté the asparagus in that bacon fat. (Psst: Blanching both the potatoes and asparagus beforehand not only gives them a head start, but seasons them throughout with salt.)

If this all sounds very rich, it’s not—thanks to garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. These assertive players keep the whole dish feeling bright and sprightly, just like I want all my spring dinners to be.


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What's your favorite way to cook chicken thighs? Tell in the comments!
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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

10 Comments

Jo April 26, 2019
Hi Rachael! I enjoy Durkee Sauce. It is a mustard/mayo combo but might be toned down enough for your body to handle. It is my favorite for leftover turkey sandwiches. Yum! You can check it out at www.durkee.com. Good luck. Jo
 
Rita C. April 26, 2019
Will this work with chicken breasts? (Bone in, skin on)
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 26, 2019
Hi Rita! It should work with chicken breasts—the only catch is that the breasts wouldn't render as much fat as the thighs. So if you need more fat to fry the potatoes, just swap in some oil.
 
Rita C. April 26, 2019
Thanks!
 
Mary H. April 26, 2019
Chicken thighs have become one of my favorite meals, but I find it difficult to separate the chicken skin from the skillet without tearing unless I use some kind of intermediary fat. My hands-down favorite is duck fat, which renders the most exquisite chicken skin texture—as light and crisp as a chip, with no greasiness. For two thighs, I melt a teaspoon or so of fat in the skillet, over medium heat, and add the salt-and-peppered (and rubbed, if you like) thighs when the fat is hot (it should sizzle, not splatter, when you add the thighs), leaving them to cook undisturbed on the stovetop for around 5 minutes, until the skin starts to brown. I pour the rendered fat over the top of the thighs, then jiggle them with tongs, to make sure they haven't stuck to the skillet, before putting them into a 400-degree oven. After 15 minutes, I turn them once, so they are skin-side up, and cook for another 10 minutes. Easy as pie. (I always discard all the fat at the end but like the idea of cooking croutons in it; I find a simple green salad the perfect accompaniment to thighs.)
 
Amy L. April 24, 2019
Thanks! Thursday dinner solved - all ingrdients on hand - lucky us!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 24, 2019
Yay!
 
Rachael April 23, 2019
Any tips for a sub for mustard? I have a severe mustard seed allergy and am always on the lookout for suggestions. Thx
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 24, 2019
Hi Rachael! The Dijon is spicy and acidic, so anything that checks those two boxes would work great here. Maybe prepared horseradish, or even your favorite hot sauce. Just adjust the quantity to taste.
 
Rachael April 24, 2019
Thanks so much!!!