Can I get something off my chest? I hate grilled chicken breast. It makes my teeth stick together and doesn’t taste like anything. But really, I’m just annoyed that it has taken over my lunch options. They try to put grilled chicken breast in everything. Grilled chicken wraps and grilled chicken salads and a terrible, dry piece of chicken breast hiding beneath a delicious blanket of mozzarella in some kind of pathetic version of a chicken parm sandwich. Chicken breast is the cranberry of meat. (Ya know, how cranberries snuck into a bunch of other good foods and ruined them? WHAT IS A CRAISIN AND WHERE IS THE NORMAL APPLE JUICE?)
But chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are a whole different ballgame. They are juicy and tender, they cook quickly, and they’re endlessly customizable. I love ’em. I use ’em all the time.
I riffed this recipe from Jenny Rosenstrach’s wonderful cookbook, Dinner: A Love Story. The basics go like this: brown the chicken, then cook the vegetables in the rendered chicken fat, then put the chicken back in with the vegetables, cover with liquids and simmer for about 15 minutes. BOOM. Dinner. Serve it over rice and call it a night. This time, I used leeks and mushrooms and finished the sauce with cream and mustard. But you could use any combination that sounds good. For a southwestern take, use jalapenos and tomatoes and finish the sauce with cream, lime juice, and zest. For a mediterranean twist, olives and artichoke hearts and finish the sauce with just a squeeze of lemon juice. For something close to chicken piccata, you could use capers and lemon juice, and finish the dish with a heavy sprinkle of parsley.
This version is sort of vaguely French, and it’s really good, but I keep coming back to it because it’s just so dang easy. If you’re sick of boring, dry chicken breast, try this recipe.
- 1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 leek, chopped and cleaned (see Note above for instructions on chopping and cleaning leeks)
- 1 box of white mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
- ½ c. white wine
- ½ c. chicken stock
- ⅓ c. heavy cream
- 1 T. mustard
- Zest from 1 lemon (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet or dutch oven that is big enough to hold all of the pieces of chicken with extra room for liquids and mushrooms and stirring. I used a cast-iron skillet , but a dutch oven would work really well here, too. Once the oil is hot, brown the chicken on both sides. You may have to do this in two batches -- it's better to brown two sets of chicken than to cram all of your meat into the pan at the same time. If the pan is crowded, the chicken will steam and won't sear. You'll miss out on the brown, nutty flavor you get from browning and the chicken will take longer to cook. Same goes for stirring and moving the chicken around -- if it's moving, it's not browning. So when I say "brown the chicken on both sides" what I mean is: put the chicken in the oil, making sure there is space between the pieces, and then go do something else for 3 minutes or so. Then lift up a corner, and if the chicken has turned brown, flip it over and repeat on the other side. If not, give it another minute or two. Once all of the chicken has browned on both sides, take it out of the oil and set it aside.
- Throw the cleaned and chopped leek (see Note on leeks, below) into the pan and stir, scraping up any bits of chicken stuck to the pan as you go. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft. Nestle the chicken back into the mushroom-leek mix and cover with the wine and chicken stock. Bring the liquid up to a boil and then reduce it down to a simmer. Simmer the chicken in the stock for 10 minutes or so, until it's cooked all the way through. If your sauce is looking thin, turn up the heat a bit. If it's looking too thick, cover the dish and continue cooking at a simmer, or add a bit of water the loosen the sauce.
- While the chicken cooks, mix up the cream and mustard (and lemon zest, if you're using it). When the chicken has about 2 minutes left, pour the mustard cream over the chicken and mushrooms and stir (or just wiggle the chicken around) to incorporate into the sauce. Serve the chicken hot over rice, with a ladle so you can scoop up all the yummy mushroom-leek-mustard sauce.
A Note on Browning Chicken: We're going to kick-off this recipe by searing the outside of the chicken thighs, which works best when the chicken is room temperature. If you're coming home from work and want to throw this together, it's totally OK to start with cold chicken. But if can take the chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you start cooking, you'll have the best results.