This recipe is loosely based on Merrill Stubbs’s Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomato and Garlic, and it’s one of the most delicious things I have ever cooked. That’s not hyperbole! The charred thyme makes the chicken taste like it came out of a wood-burning oven at a fancy restaurant, and the fish sauce, while subtle, adds a powerful dimension of flavor. The dish is so quick, easy, and satisfying that it will now make a regular appearance on my table. I prefer to cook the thighs with the bones in, but like to remove them just before serving. To do this, I recommend cutting along the bones while the chicken is raw to make them easier to take out after the thighs are cooked—just run a sharp paring knife along either side of each bone without slicing all the way through.
Heat the oven to 400°F (200°C). In a roasting pan, toss the chicken thighs with the oil and 1 1⁄2 teaspoons of the salt. Roast for 45 minutes, or until the thighs are nicely browned but not too dark.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn on the broiler setting to high. Add the tomatoes and garlic and toss with the roasted chicken. Redistribute the chicken, tomatoes, and garlic evenly in the pan and arrange the thyme sprigs over the top. Position the pan directly under the broiler and broil for 4 to 8 minutes, or until the thyme is very charred, the chicken skin is a little charred, and the tomatoes and garlic are starting to brown at the edges.
Remove the pan from the oven and separate out the chicken thighs, resting them on a plate. Put the tomatoes and garlic in a bowl (and spoon in any pan drippings), pulling out any thyme stems that survived the broiler (most of them should have burnt and kind of disintegrated into the tomatoes). Add the vinegar, fish sauce, and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and toss everything together. The mixture will be saucy. To serve, put the chicken thighs on a platter (deboned and sliced, if you feel like it) and surround with the tomatoes, garlic, and juices, with crusty bread on the side.