As we’ve all just survived the polar vortex, I can think of no better way to rewarm our souls than with this meal. Salty, crispy skin gives way to the rich and succulent meat of the chicken thigh. It is swimming in a sauce of white wine, garlic, thyme and paper-thin onions with leafy green spinach sliding its way into each bite, wilted to that perfect texture where it is silky but still packed with flavor. Tiny pearls of couscous pop onto the scene, these miniature orbs offering up a decidedly curious textural element that is hard to put into words and even harder to stop eating. A long, slow simmer brings each element together into one harmonious dish. Polar vortex or not, I strongly encourage you to give this recipe a try.
If you’ve had one chicken breast you’ve had 1,000. Sure they can be pumped up with flavor but they are much more sensitive when it comes to cooking and can dry out in a matter of seconds. Let me introduce you to the chicken thigh, foodie-friends. If you aren’t already familiar you should be. It is by far my favorite cut of the chicken. And it responds particularly well to a long, slow simmer in an uber-flavorful broth, which is exactly what we are going to do in this particular recipe!
Select chicken thighs with the bone and skin still intact. The bone will simply add a greater depth of flavor and we are going to give the skin a solid sear, leaving it crispy and crunchy. Add a liberal amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to both sides of the chicken. Heat a large skillet with tall sides over medium high heat. Add one tbs olive oil and one tbs unsalted butter and then place the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down. Sear for seven minutes and remove to plate and set aside. Bring the heat on the pan down to medium-low.
Now to begin the flavor-enhancing! Use a mandolin and shave one half of a large onion into very thin slices. You may use a knife if you don’t have a mandolin handy but just make sure to keep the onion sliced very thinly. They will reduce down and almost melt into the sauce. Add the onions to the pan and toss with the chicken drippings, scrapping the bottom of the pot to bring up any seared items left behind.
Allow the onions to cook down for five minutes until they begin to sweat and are translucent. Add two tsp of minced fresh thyme, one tbs of minced garlic, one eighth of a tsp red pepper flakes and the zest from one lemon. Toss to combine and warm through for one minute.
Add one cup of dry white wine (something you enjoy drinking – make sure to pour yourself a glass while you cook) to the pan along with one and one half cups unsalted chicken broth, one bay leaf and one half tsp of kosher salt.
Bring the sauce to a boil and put the chicken back into the pan, skin-side up. The sauce should cover most of the chicken but not the skin. We want to make sure that remains crisp.
Bring the sauce down to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 50 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and a thermometer reads 150 degrees in the thickest part of the meat. Keep an eye on the pot and adjust the heat, making the sure the sauce doesn’t reduce too quickly. It will boil down and the flavors will concentrate and intensify.
During the last ten minutes of the chicken’s cooking time prepare the couscous. I have a minor obsession with Israeli couscous (you will find evidence of this here and here) and love the way the sauce melts into these mini balls of pasta but rice, quinoa or another grain or noodle will yield the same, delicious, results. Place one cup of couscous in a pot and add one and one quarter cups of boiling water. Bring to a full boil and then cover, dropping the heat to medium-low and cooking for eight to ten minutes until the pasta is light and fluffy. Add one quarter tsp of kosher salt and set aside.
When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the pan, along with the bay leaf, and add three handfuls of fresh spinach, the juice of one lemon, one tbs of balsamic vinegar and one quarter tsp of kosher salt to the pan. Toss until wilted – approximately three minutes – and taste for seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary. Plate the couscous and spoon the sauce over the bed of pasta. Top with the chicken breasts and add additional sauce overtop (not too much – you don’t want the skin to become soggy). Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and serve.
- four chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
- one tbs olive oil
- one tbs unsalted butter
- one half of a large onion, sliced very thinly (mandolin recommended)
- two tsp of minced fresh thyme
- one tbs of minced garlic
- one eighth of a tsp red pepper flakes
- the zest from one lemon
- one cup of dry white wine
- one and one half cups unsalted chicken broth
- one bay leaf
- three quarters tsp of kosher salt, divided
- three handfuls of fresh spinach
- the juice of one lemon
- one tbs balsamic vinegar
- freshly chopped parsley for garnish
- one cup Israeli couscous
- one quarter tsp kosher salt