Canal House's Chicken Thighs with Lemon


Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: "Short of turning chicken on a spit over live wood embers, I know of no better process for cooking chicken, nor one that delivers more satisfying or true flavors,” Paul Bertolli wrote of this technique, which he calls "bottom-up cooking," in Cooking by Hand.

You don’t sear, and you don’t roast, and you don’t grill—you don’t do any of the things we’re taught to do to chicken. Instead, you lay the chicken, skin side down, in a barely hot pan. Then you leave it mostly alone for about 30 minutes, flipping only once. The skin becomes impossibly crisp, enough so to satisfy your darkest fried chicken cravings.

Bertolli’s is a worthy technique to play with, but Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer of Canal House have streamlined it for us. They use only thighs, which lie flat, maximizing the crisping area, and jigsaw easily into a round skillet. Unlike Bertolli, they also allow for a bit of olive oil to get the process rolling.

The simplest version of the sauce has only minced-up preserved lemon stirred into the pan juices at the end, but you can play with this technique as you like. Hirsheimer and Hamilton suggest two more seasoning variations—sherry and mushrooms, or bacon and olives. You can deglaze and make a gravy or a fancy pan sauce. Or just eat all the chicken as fast as you can.
Reprinted with permission from Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore, copyright © 2015. Recipe courtesy of Canal House. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Photography credit: James Ransom © 2015
Genius Recipes

Serves: 4
Prep time: 2 min
Cook time: 45 min

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • rind from half of a preserved lemon, finely chopped
  • lemon wedges, for serving
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Put the olive oil into a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the skillet, skin side down. Cook them like this, without moving them, until the fat has rendered out and the skin is deep golden brown and crisp, 15 to 30 minutes. Fiddle with the heat, reducing it to medium-low if the skin begins to burn before it gets evenly golden brown. Turn the thighs over and stir the preserved lemon rind into the fat in the skillet. Continue cooking the thighs until the meat closest to the bone is cooked through, about 15 minutes more. Serve the thighs and lemony pan drippings with the lemon wedges.

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Reviews (116) Questions (1)

116 Reviews

Rachel October 6, 2018
Has anyone used the sherry/mushroom variation? I don't have time to scan all 114 reviews right now, or I'd see for myself.
 
jennifer August 31, 2018
So, for those of you've who've tried this with the lid on for the skin side down portion of the cooking - is the skin truly as crispy as it would be without the lid? AND, do you find that this cooks the chicken faster, shortening the cooking time after the flip?
 
SarahWarn August 31, 2018
Yes, I find them to be as crispy as long as you don't put the lid back on after the flip. Just turn down the heat a bit after the flip to reduce spattering. And cooking time will be shortened a few minutes.
 
marilu July 18, 2018
My first fried chicken! Two of the four I cooked turned out excellent. The other two still had a little pinkish liquid seeping out of the bone area. Any tips on how to keep that from happening? I thought about semi-covering it per one of the suggestions below but couldnt bear to accidentally steam that skin I was so patient to wait for! Can't wait to practice again!
 
Bernice July 18, 2018
This happens to me too sometimes but when it does, it's usually because my thighs are different sizes and the ones that are larger need more time. It's also the placement in the pan so I try to rotate the pan a few times to make sure that every piece is getting in the really hot spot for a good amount of time or they will be uneven (most stoves have an unevenness to them). I hope this helps.
 
marilu July 19, 2018
Very helpful! I'll keep this in mind for next time. I think I'm addicted to salty fried chicken skin...
 
msmely December 2, 2018
Smaller chickens are usually younger, and their bones are not totally ossified (converted from cartilage to bone.) What you are seeing is actually bone marrow seeping out at the growth plate. The chicken is fully cooked! If you have any doubts use a meat thermometer. The only way to prevent this in smaller chickens is to overcook them! Salting them heavily will improve moisture retention but is one of those reasons people think they hate white meat poultry when really all they've ever had is overcooked poultry.
 
CuriousH July 2, 2018
I love this recipe!! So easy to make a show stopping dish with staples I always have on hand. One question - my lemon peels always seems to burn, past the point of carmelized. Any suggestions to avoid, without undercooking the chicken?
 
Karen M. June 13, 2018
Found this recipe a few years ago, commenting now in defense of it....this is hands down my family's favorite way to eat chicken thighs on a weeknight (in fact, I'm making it tonight). First time I made it was an attempt to figure out other uses for my jar of preserved lemons - now I make this more than I make tagine. We love preserved lemon so I use the rind from a whole one instead of just a half...otherwise it's exactly as written. 14" Lodge cast iron pan (ni lid), good quality olive oil, plenty of sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and absolutely no moving (or even touching) of the chicken for at least the first 20 minutes. Skin is always crispy, chicken is always cooked through, kitchen is never a mess (wondering if the messy kitchen folks are using shallow frying pans ? My big Lodge has nice tall sides ). I do tend to grab the smaller thighs for this as I find the recipe works better with them (some of the chicken thighs out there look more like turkeys !) If you like preserved lemon (and chicken thighs, of course) I urge you to try this one again if it didn't work the first time. Can't wait for dinner tonight !!
 
Kristen M. June 13, 2018
Hey, thanks so much for sharing your experience and super helpful tips, Karen! Really happy it's been a keeper for you.
 
Lea C. May 16, 2018
After reading all the failed attempts I had very little hope that my chicken would turn out to look just like the picture. BUT IT DID! Loved this recipe! I cooked it on the cheapest of cheap electrical stovetop with a good old cast iron pan (without any lid action) and was so surprised when I ended up with the most delicious crispy chicken. I think patience is the key, because it wasn't a quick fry up but definitely worth the wait. I was also proud of myself for fighting every urge to move my chicken in the first 25 mins. NO TOUCHY!
 
70&holding April 11, 2018
through many years of cooking, I have learned a few things about... successful cooking! May I share...<br />1: Always listen to your elders/inlaws, They do know, more than you!<br />2: If possible, start out with, really good, cookery!<br />3: YOU do NOT need all of the, gadgets, just a good set of knives!<br />4: If cooking from a recipe, read it ALL way through, Before touching anything else!!<br />5: Make sure you have every thing you need, BEFORE beginning!<br />6: Forks, or any sharp objects are for, finished meats, poultry, fish! Use tongs or spatula for turning!<br />7: If something does go wrong, do not toss the recipe, just note the problem on the page, try it again in a few weeks.<br />8: Patiences!! If you are stressed, take a few deep breaths, or, go a walk!<br />9: If 8 does not work, go for take out, put it on your serving pieces, NEVER say a word!! But, do not FIB either!!<br />10: Okay, once you have successfully followed the first three, buy that new device you covet!<br />Try to enjoy cooking as much as you hope your family/guests,enjoy eating! If you give up on more recipes than you master, meals will become, boring, no matter how good they are! Never be afraid to ask!raf<br />
 
Bob Q. April 11, 2018
To Chasomores comments on this being a failure recipie I just have to say: <br />Um after reading your negative comment..and then making this recipie...and having a few martinis...I think I found your problem. First, what were you drinking? And second, were you drinking alone? Only use the best cocktail ingredients, ones you would cook with, and try not to drink alone. Having someone to chat with while cooking and drinking, will help to keep you from annoying the chicken ("using a spatula and peeknig every so often") while it's doing as it was toldto do in the recipie...browning and crisping. Let us know if this helps.
 
Bob Q. April 11, 2018
To Chasomores comments on this being a failure recipie I just have to say: <br />Um after reading your negative comment..and then making this recipie...and having a few martinis...I think I found your problem. First, what were you drinking? And second, were you drinking alone? Only use the best cocktail ingredients, ones you would cook with, and try not to drink alone. Having someone to chat with while cooking and drinking, will help to keep you from annoying the chicken ("using a spatula and peeknig every so often") while it's doing as it was toldto do in the recipie...browning and crisping. Let us know if this helps.
 
kathy February 23, 2018
Thanks for "permission" to cover the pan during the first half of cooking... way too much grease escaped from the screen/spatter guard cover! But I've made this before in a cast iron pan & it's always delicious, tender, crusty, & much of the chicken fat is rendered. Also drained cooked thighs on paper towel for a few minutes before serving.<br />My favorite way to cook chicken thighs... oh, except for Country Captain Chicken!
 
Kara W. February 11, 2018
I went for it, despite my fear after reading the comments. I really tried to leave the skin side down, covered & untouched for a full 15 minutes, after which I did a very mild test to see if the thigh would lift (as if to flip) easily. When it didn't, I left it alone and tried again 10 minutes later - easy as pie. Flipped it, slid lid over so it somewhat but not nearly completely covered, added lemon zest and a little squeezed lemon to the pan, let it finish. Served to a French foodie friend et voila - perfection!
 
Kara W. February 11, 2018
I went for it, despite my fear after reading the comments. I really tried to leave the skin side down, covered & untouched for a full 15 minutes, after which I did a very mild test to see if the thigh would lift (as if to flip) easily. When it didn't, I left it alone and tried again 10 minutes later - easy as pie. Flipped it, slid lid over so it somewhat but not nearly completely covered, added lemon zest and a little squeezed lemon to the pan, let it finish. Served to a French foodie friend et voila - perfection!
 
Marcie August 8, 2017
Reading the comments, it strikes me that a lot of the success depends on the temperature, and has stoves vary widely. Cheap new ones won't put out a lot of heat, and good quality new ones can really blast. Me, I use an antique 40's Wedgewood, built to last and puts out a good strong flame but not "professional" level.
 
Jan June 23, 2017
This recipe must be in a similar category to the Internet dress sensation of 2015 where some people perceived "The Dress" to be gold & white while others insisted it was blue & black. I am an experienced home cook and made this recipe with good organic chicken after reading an article that raved about it. AFTER making it and being disappointed, I read the reviews and saw the wildly polar opposite comments. Wish I had done so BEFORE making it. Not to offend those who love it, but for the life of me I couldn't understand the hype. My husband and I both thought it was remarkably dull and flavorless, and even with a spatter guard, it took me forever to clean up my stove, the floor, the wall, the cabinets .... Oh well, I'm glad it's a stand by for some folks. FYI: I always perceived "The Dress" to be gold and white. I wonder if those who perceived it to be blue and black liked this chicken. Hmmm?
 
Steven W. October 8, 2017
I can't imagine what you did to make your clean-up that big. I do thighs like this all the time, sometimes I finish them in the oven and there is no more clean up than when cooking anything else!
 
Brent A. April 25, 2017
I made preserved lemons just for this recipe. It was worth it.<br />Very simple. Fantastic results. <br />(Now I need more uses for my jar of preserved lemon. Lol.)
 
juliunruly April 25, 2017
Brent, I use preserved lemons in this and it's really delicious: https://food52.com/recipes/2519-israeli-couscous-with-roasted-lemons-capers-topped-with-seared-scallops-a-lemon-creme-fraiche-drizzle
 
Peggy G. March 11, 2017
What does "air-chilled" chicken mean. Chilling in frig with no cover?
 
SarahWarn March 12, 2017
It's an option when buying chicken: air-chilled means the chicken hasn't been processed using water baths, which can make the chicken and skin prone to sogginess.<br /><br />That said, chilling the chicken in the fridge with no cover will also make for better results, regardless of what kind of chicken you use.
 
SarahWarn February 7, 2017
PUT THE LID ON THE PAN! I've been doing this for years, it doesn't harm the browning at all, and contains the mess. When it's time to check on the chicken, move the pan off the heat, wait for the sizzles to stop, then open the pan and check it.<br /><br />Also, air-chilled chicken is much better than not. I use an all-clad stainless saute pan + a little oil.
 
SarahWarn February 7, 2017
I should add, put the lid on only during the skin side down phase. Otherwise the skin will get soggy.
 
Feesie January 1, 2017
This is the first thing I have made from food52 (and my first post) I was a little thrown by the blurb calling from a barely hot pan. I think this may be where the comments are divided. I cooked ours in a medium hot heavy base non stick pan. One teaspoon of oil would have been enough as our chicken was a little fatty. Our hob is very small and one half of the pan is hotter than the other the hot side worked much better. You should be able to hear the chicken bubbling away. The result was fabulous. My first 10/10 from my husband in eight years of cooking and a definite addition to the weekday dinner list. Thankyou Kristen!
 
girlwithaknife November 27, 2016
Made this tonight with fresh zest from one lemon and finished with lemon juice. It was good not great. Will have to try with preserved lemon to see if it goes to the next level. Also the skin was not as crispy as I'd hoped. Suggestions?
 
M September 11, 2016
I'm pretty new to cooking. I brined my chicken for Judy Hesser's Oven Fried Chicken, and the flavor came out really well. Would brining the chicken in this recipe throw off the flavor in any way?
 
Kristen M. September 12, 2016
Nope, it should be great—you'll just want to salt it less on the surface before cooking (or not at all, since there's a bit of saltiness in the preserved lemon too).
 
M September 12, 2016
Great, thanks!