This technique is not particularly innovative but makes my family's favorite chicken. My mom found the basic idea somewhere years ago but it has evolved a lot since then. The original source was probably the Washington Post Food section or Bon Appetit Magazine (but if you know exactly please let me know in the comments I've never been able to guess good search terms to find the original). While it is by no means a fast recipe I hope you'll try it and it will continue to evolve in your kitchen.
A note on drying: When I say to thoroughly dry the chicken I mean it. If the paper towel is not sticking to the skin it is not dry enough. This recipe depends on the fat rendering itself and any moisture will create steam instead, and you will get lifeless, flabby skin if you are lucky enough to get it to seperate from the pan at all.
A note on cooking times: I buy the same chicken from the same place every time so I know these times work for air chilled, organic chicken. If you buy chicken that was packaged in brine, is non-organic, or is very large the cooking times will definitely vary hopefully the cues I've put in the recipe will help you find the right timing. —My Friend Maillard
- Makes as many as fit in your favorite pan
- Choose your pan and how many chicken thighs you will be making. The quantities of the ingredients in this recipe heavily depend on the size pan you have available. Something wide with straight shallow sides like you would make paella in is best after that any heavy skillet or cast iron pans you own will work, the pan I use fits 6 chicken thighs from the Butcher shop (they are a little smaller than the ones in the grocery store). The thighs will shrink as they cook so it is okay if some skin is overlapping to start, but don't pack them in so much that the meat/bones are touching.
- Thoroughly dry the chicken, especially the skin side. Separate the skin from the meat a little at the thickest part, but do not detach the skin.
- Season the skin side of the chicken. A hearty pinch of salt for each thigh, if you would like to add other seasonings add a few dashes now. Two optional seasonings I use often are hot paprika with mustard powder OR a dusting of poultry stuffing seasoning.
- Place chicken skin side down in your pan and place on a burner over low to medium low heat. Render the fat in the skin as slowly as possible for the crispiest result. A slow render will also allow the skin to release from the pan better as well. Season the meat side of your chicken now with a little bit more salt, ground black pepper, and more optional seasoning if using.
- Once you start to hear some sputtering and see the skin moving as it renders, approximately 5 minutes, turn on the oven to 350degrees F. Since starting in a cold dry pan is the most important step to a crisp render (just like the best bacon) turning the oven on before this step could result in a lesser end product.
- Flip the chicken thighs. I usually start trying after 15-20 minutes. Once the skin has rendered most of it's fat it will release itself from the pan. So if you are getting any resistance try to pull the skin up it is not quite done, this requires patience.
- Once you have all of your pieces flipped over so that they are now skin side up in the pan turn off the burner and place your pan in the oven. (The oven is not strictly necessary, you could finish cooking the chicken on the other side over the burner and in fact it is faster that way. But personally, I hate cleaning up schmaltz splatter and it really gets everywhere when I'm cooking enough for the whole family. So I finish in the oven to get a more even result among the individual thighs and make clean-up easier.)
- Your chicken will be done after about 30 minutes in the oven. Pierce with a knife and see if the juices run clear or if you are a stickler for health and safety reccomendations checck with a thermometer at the thickest point to see if it is at 165degrees F. If you are unsure if it is fully cooked leave it in 10 minutes longer, since it is cooking slowly in it's own fat it is unlikely to get dry or rubbery in that amount of time.
- Serve with a salad and crusty bread in the summer or risotto and roasted vegetables in the winter, or, you know, whatever pleases you.
- Variation: A couple of times I have stuffed mashed potatoes between the skin and meat before seasoning and cooking. I got the idea from Edward Lee in his book Smoke & Pickles (he uses mashed potatoes to insulate the breast meat in a whole roast chicken). I put about 1/4 of potatoes in each and just cook as usual. It is a little harder to judge doneness, but has that extra little "wow factor" if you're looking for a home-style dinner party entree.