Roasted Chicken, with or without hangover

by Terry B on January 2, 2008

Versatile, delicious and brainlessly easy roasted chicken thighs—here with herbes de Provence. Recipe of sorts below.

We didn’t overindulge this New Year’s Eve. We really didn’t. But we did undersleep. We actually got home a little before one in the morning, sober as judges [or at any rate as sober as they're reputed to be], because Nick’s, the no-cover Wicker Park bar that reliably delivers a decent mix of live blues and R&B most weekends had gone all unannounced private party on us. The door guy was apologetic, but someone apparently threw enough money at Nick to keep the riffraff out for one night.

So instead, we ended up taking a nice long walk in the snow in this bar-packed neighborhood, entertaining ourselves with a running commentary on our overserved, underdressed [talking hypothermia risk here, not style] fellow pedestrians. There were some spectacular examples out and about, hailing cabs in sparkly tank tops, shivering jacketless in doorways on cell phones, slushing through snow in perfect little pointy heels that probably cost the earth and are now in ruins… I wanted to yell, “This is Chicago, people. It’s winter!” But apparently it’s hipper to walk around hunched up and teeth chattering than to—oh, I don’t know—put on a jacket?

Eventually, even in our sensible layers, we got cold. So we headed for the El. Every New Year’s Eve, the Chicago Transit Authority does this great thing, making rides on all subways, Els and buses one penny—free, if you have a transit card. We made our way home too sober to be ushering in a new year and with our downstairs neighbors’ party going full tilt, with the volume set “at 11.” They are really, really nice, really, really quiet neighbors at all times, so we figured this party was a gimme.

We settled in with some champagne, slices of Marion’s wonderful pear cake and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night DVD on the telly, cranked loud enough to sort of be heard over the interesting music mix from downstairs—Kanye West, Johnny Cash, David Bowie and [ten points if you know this group's single hit] Ram Jam, to give you an idea. By the time their party wound down and we’d achieved the proper champagne dosage, it was around 3:30 in the morning.

Oh, yeah. This was supposed to be about roasted chicken. Well, originally, it wasn’t. I had another dish planned for my first post of the year, something that’s nice and easy to make, but requires a little planning ahead. I was so not ready for that. By the time I dug the car out [as I said, "This is Chicago, people. It's winter!"] and made my way to the grocery store, I was totally operating at half speed and looking for something auto-pilot simple, but still real food. Hence, herb-roasted chicken thighs.

A whole roasted chicken can be a festive thing of beauty for company dinners, a wonderful centerpiece for the table. But many home cooks stress out [and not totally without reason] over the breast cooking faster than the legs and thighs, achieving crispy skin without the bird drying out, timing it to the rest of the meal and any number of other culinary landmines. We seem to have overcome many of these issues with the addition of a Staub La Cocotte oval roasting pan to our kitchen that, as Marion says, creates a mini-environment in the oven, roasting the chicken evenly and beautifully.

But for speed, ease and sheer versatility, give me some chicken thighs to roast. They cook quickly—about 45 minutes once they’re in the oven—and they readily pick up the flavors of any spices, herbs or other flavorings you use. [Stuff the cavity of a whole chicken with anything you like and you'll be lucky if the legs and thighs even hint at the flavors.] And maybe best of all, they make great leftovers. Heat and eat them as is or cut them up and add to a pasta sauce, some mac & cheese, some stir-fried vegetables… They also can be turned into this delicious, spicy chicken salad.

What follows is not so much a recipe as it is some guidelines and variations—and just a reminder that they’re really easy to make [and hard to screw up] and delicious to eat.

First, the basics. You can roast any chicken pieces, but chicken thighs are the most forgiving. Unlike breast pieces, they don’t dry out easily. Whole chicken legs or separate thighs and drumsticks are also good.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF or 375ºF. Using kitchen shears, trim away excess fat from thighs. Season on both sides with salt, pepper and whatever herbs and seasonings you choose—see Kitchen Notes below for some ideas.

Coat the bottom and sides of a baking dish or pan with a little olive oil [see Kitchen Notes]. Arrange thighs skin side up in pan [again with the Kitchen Notes]. Don’t crowd them—use an additional pan if needed. Place baking dish on middle rack of oven and roast, basting at least once with pan juices—the first time at about 20 minutes. By this time enough of the fat in and under the skin as well as in the chicken itself will have been rendered, naturally basting the meat. Brushing the chicken with these pan juices will help the skin brown nicely.

At about 40 minutes or so, check the chicken for doneness. First, if the skin is golden brown, that’s a good sign the chicken is done or nearly so. Insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the biggest thigh, avoiding the bone. The chicken is done if it’s at least 165ºF. Alternatively, pierce a thigh with a sharp knife blade—if the juice runs clear, it’s done. If it’s pinkish or reddish, let the chicken roast a bit longer and check again.

Transfer to a serving tray and tent with foil to keep warm while you finish the rest of the meal. And honestly, if the rest of the meal is coming together more slowly than it should be, just turn off the oven and leave the chicken in its pan inside. I’ve done this for up to 15 minutes with no ill effects. Unlike more fragile chicken breasts, thighs won’t dry out.

Kitchen Notes

Variations on a thigh. Here are a few ways to season chicken thighs for a whole range of flavors. Be sure to season thighs on both sides—the skin side for appearance as much as anything else and the underside for truly helping the seasonings to impart their flavor throughout the flesh. If you have fresh herbs, they’re great, but dried herbs work very well in roasting. For a pan of 8 to 10 thighs, I usually use maybe a couple of teaspoons of dried herbs. If you’re using fresh herbs, up the amount—their flavors aren’t as concentrated as dried varieties. And bruise fresh herbs with a rolling pin or by crushing them lightly in your hands to release more of their oils.

Herbes de Provence. This is my go to—this lovely French herb mix is delicate, fragrant and delicious.

Rosemary. Okay, this is a go to choice too, probably my favorite single herb. As a variation, add a little chopped garlic to the pan about halfway through the roasting process. If you add it before the chicken has produced pan juices, it’s likely to burn. You can also add a little lemon juice then, if you like.

Tarragon. Another great herb. If you like, add some lemon juice partway through the roasting process. You can also lay thin slices of lemon on each thigh, brushing them with pan juices to keep them from burning.

These are a few ideas to get you started. I’m sure your comments will offer many others. I’d also love to hear ideas for leftovers.

Juicy’s only skin deep. Resist the temptation to skin the chicken before roasting—this is the source of much of the juiciness and flavor of roasted chicken. Serve it with the skin too—it looks better that way. You and/or dinner guests can remove the skins on your plates. If you insist on serving it skinless, flip it over so the herb-coated underside is up; this also looks better than the plain, skinned thigh.

Oiling the pan. Am I the only one out there who hates so-called non-stick sprays? Over time, I find that they actually cause sticky build-up in fry pans and on baking dishes. Just drizzle a little oil in the pan and smear it around with a paper towel. Done.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 1/2/08

Remembering Oscar Peterson. Count Basie said of this virtuoso jazz pianist, “Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I’ve ever heard.” A live album, Summer Night in Munich, shows just what he meant, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

Fight lung cancer. Drink up. Just added to the list of the health of benefits of wine? Reducing the risk of lung cancer. Seriously. Read more at WTF? Random food for thought.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia January 2, 2008 at 1:07 pm

A long walk followed by a bottle of champagne at home with your sweetie sounds like a wonderful way to ring out the old year, and some simple roast chicken is a perfect way to welcome the new year. Happy 2008, Terry.

ann January 2, 2008 at 1:18 pm

I had to look up Ram Jam, and I must confess, I’m still at a loss! I’ll have to wait ’til I get to work and try and find the song there. Maybe it’ll rattle some brain cells.
I’m with Lydia, I think that’s a fantastic way to spend New Year’s! I kind of missed living in the “heart” of Manhattan this year and passing judgment on all the girls out to find someone to kiss at midnight. Happy New Year Terry et. al.!

Denzylle January 2, 2008 at 5:39 pm

‘Black Betty’ – and I didn’t look it up!

It gets played fairly regularly on the radio here in the UK.

Terry B January 2, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Lydia—It was indeed a lovely way to welcome the new year. And happy 2008 to you too!

Ann—The guys are just as bad and they don’t even dress up. Drunk frat boys in untucked striped shirts—now, that’s different. And festive.

And Denzylle takes the lead with ten points! “Black Betty” was a really rocking cover of an old Leadbelly blues song by an otherwise forgettable band.

Jennifer Hess January 2, 2008 at 8:17 pm

I started singing “Black Betty” in my head as soon as I read the band name! Ah, I’m glad my days of prancing around in the cold looking “fashionable” and nursing day-after hangovers are over… so much nicer to have a low-key evening at home with loved ones.

Happy 2008!

Jann January 3, 2008 at 12:06 am

A perfect meal for that great event! New Years and starting off with something divine! Cheers to you—love that blue roaster…….

Terry B January 3, 2008 at 1:41 am

Jennifer—Yes, but the urge to be in the thick of it dies hard. Had we gotten into Nick’s, at least part of the evening would have involved LOUD live music and friendly bartenders. That’s how we’ve spent many a New Year’s Eve.

Jann—Thanks! We like the Staub equipment much more than the more ubiquitous Le Creuset. For one thing, it cleans up much more easily.

marie January 3, 2008 at 5:22 am

Great post! Enjoyed the visual of party goers walking around freezing with no coat on! It was quite cold and very snowy here on New Years eve. My kids used to do that when they were in their early 20′s, I used to think they were crazy! I have a blue Staub pan too and I love it, it’s my go to pan all the time!

zendona January 3, 2008 at 7:08 am

Pear Cake?

DO TELL!

Terry B January 3, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Okay, zendona. Here’s how to find Marion’s pear cake recipe—this gets a little complicated, but bear with me. If you go to this link, you’ll find a salsa cruda recipe. But scroll down to the end and you’ll see how Marion adapted her prune plum cake recipe with pears, complete with a link to the original prune plum cake recipe. This is why I didn’t provide a link in this post; the cake is delicious, though, and totally worth these few convoluted steps.

kickpleat January 3, 2008 at 7:35 pm

lovely post and a very lovely photo. i’m getting hungry just looking at it!

Katie January 3, 2008 at 8:44 pm

I do missing walking in the snow…just a tiny bit. But I’m perfectly happy missing it. I rather think the memory is better than reality!
I hate to tell you this, but when you pass up sandals and strapless tops just to be warm in a snowstorm…you’ve passed into the, um, sensible stage of your life…as I did! Damn, but I like warm feet! And champagne!

Toni January 4, 2008 at 6:39 am

Oh Terry – your description of the girls dressed in pointy heels out freezing their asses off in the winter brings back long-lost memories…..I am SO GLAD I’m over that stage of life! A bottle of champagne, a Beatles DVD and a roast chicken is so much more my speed!

And speaking of roasted chicken – thighs, or any other parts – it’s probably my number one comfort food. I’m with you on the spray stuff — I use olive oil or canola oil rubbed on with a paper towel, and you know what? Stuff doesn’t stick!

p.s. – thanks for the link to the pear cake…..I just bought some pears today…….

Terry B January 4, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Kickpleat—Thanks! I always admire your great photography—in that hungry sort of way, the best admiration for food bloggers.

Katie—I’m not advocating L.L. Bean flannel-lined dungarees here. We’re all about fashion too. I’m just saying there are stylish coats and jackets to be had. I see them in Marion’s issues of Vogue.

Toni—We’re still up for a night out in a loud bar, and that was our original plan. In fact, I checked Nick’s marquee this morning on my way to work to see who’s playing this weekend. Hope the pear cake works out for you—we always enjoy it thoroughly. It’s a delicious, beautiful dessert that isn’t overly sweet or heavy.

Suzana January 6, 2008 at 6:45 pm

A cocotte is a must have in any kitchen – I love yours, blue looks stunning (mine is greenish)! If you’re cooking with Herbes de Provence, count me in. :)

Have a great 2008 – may all your wishes come true!

sugarlaws January 8, 2008 at 4:59 pm

great way to spend new year’s eve! i always like more chill nights better than huge party nights anyways. we were out on my boyfriend’s friend’s ranch in texas, which was quite a change for my NYC-based self! it was kind of fun to do something different, though. :-) happy 2008!

SteamyKitchen January 9, 2008 at 4:03 am

all i see is that blue Staub. I see. I want. I need.

John Shore January 9, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that, having never in my life cooked chicken (I’m 50!! — and was a vegetarian for some 25 years), I JUST used your recipe here to do so. It’s cooling down right now! I want to thank you for helping me overcome this very exciting hurdle. (I can’t believe how STUPID this makes me sound. Oh, well. Now I’ll be stupid and FULL.)

Thanks again!!

Terry B January 9, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Suzana—Welcome to Blue Kitchen! A quick look at your blog from Lisbon tells me I’ll be back for more.

sugarlaws—New Year’s eve on a ranch in Texas? That sounds like pretty much fun. As much as I’m a city boy, doing something completely uncitified like that can be a refreshing palate cleanser for me, kind of reset everything for me.

SteamyKitchen—Yeah, our cookware is a real mix of everyday stuff and really cool stuff like this cocotte.

John—You don’t sound stupid at all. We all just happen to get around to certain things at different times in our lives, in the kitchen and elsewhere. Hope you enjoyed the chicken!

Rasa Malaysia January 11, 2008 at 4:54 am

This looks yummy. I just served up some Malaysian style chicken wings…I love chicken. :)

John Shore January 11, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Yeah, this is how much I enjoyed the chicken: I ate all four thighs, immediately. I sat down in front of the TV, turned on a Jerry Seinfeld DVD, and ate like I’d been released from a POW camp. It was easily one of the best half hours of my life. I mean, practically. Or REALLY, even.

Terry B January 11, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Rasa Malaysia—I just took a quick look at your chicken wings recipe. I could see that adapting nicely for chicken thighs and turning an appetizer into a wonderful main course. In fact, I may do just that!

John—Thanks, man! I laughed out loud when I read your perfect description of a delicious moment. Such is the power of food—even simply prepared food, done right.

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