Crispy Chicken Thighs with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette & Escarole

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

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At my house, chicken thighs spent years at the bottom of our poultry totem pole (…your family doesn’t have a poultry totem pole?). Chicken breasts are lean and kind of fancy, the kids clamor for drumsticks, and we all love wings.  Chicken thighs failed to make an impression. UNTIL.

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Until I introduced chicken thighs to a hot skillet skin side down, waited patiently, then flipped them over.  Before me sizzled chicken skin perfection, golden and crisp.  My opinion of chicken thighs shot up, and I hold them in high esteem to this day.  When chicken thighs are nicely browned their flavor profile bears a strong resemblance to duck leg.  They boast the same decadent crisp skin and rich, shreddy dark meat.  In this recipe the crisp factor is dialed up using an Italian technique called al mattone (‘under the brick’).  The thighs are boned and pressed onto a hot skillet, then weighed down with a heavy pan.  They emerge golden brown, thin but succulent and with skin so crisp it practically shatters.  Slightly bitter escarole and a lemon vinaigrette cut through the richness of those fabulous thighs.  I love anchovies and the gusto they add to this dressing, but just add two fillets if you prefer a subtler flavor.

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Crispy Chicken Thighs with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette & Escarole

serves 4-6

2 – 4 anchovy fillets

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 head escarole

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon preserved lemon rind, minced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 chicken thighs

salt and pepper, to taste

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon and chives are good choices)

1. First, make the vinaigrette.  Use a mortar and pestle to smash the anchovies and garlic together into a paste, or finely mince them. Add the vinegar and let the mixture sit for a few minutes.  Use this time to wash and dry the escarole and tear the leaves.  Add the mustard and preserved lemon to the dressing, then stir in the olive oil.  Set the greens and vinaigrette aside while you prepare the chicken.

2. Carefully remove the thigh bones with a sharp paring knife, cutting as close to the bone as you can.  Discard the bones, or save them in the freezer to make stock another day. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

3.  Heat a well-seasoned iron skillet over medium high heat.  The beauty of using an iron skillet here is that the low sides allow moisture to escape, which allows the thighs to crisp up and not poach in fat.  Also, the heavy bottom keeps the thighs cooking evenly.  You’ll brown the thighs in batches, to avoid crowding the pan.  Add the one tablespoon each of olive oil and butter to the skillet.

4.  When the butter and oil are very hot add a few chicken thighs to the pan, skin side down.  The thighs should have two inches of space around them, so that they’ll brown nicely.  Cover the thighs with a piece of parchment paper and place a heavy pot on top of that.  Cook for ten minutes; try to resist peeking.  On my stove the burners are uneven, so I  turn the pan every few minutes to ensure even cooking.  After ten minutes remove the weight and parchment and turn the thighs over.  If they are ready to be flipped, they will release from the pan easily.  If the thighs stick, give them a few more minutes.  If lots of liquid is sitting in the pan, drain that – moisture is the enemy of crisp chicken skin.  Cook the second side of the chicken thighs for five minutes, uncovered.  When they are nicely browned move them to a platter in a warm oven.  Repeat this process with the remaining thighs.

5. Drain all but two tablespoons of fat from the skillet.  Pour the vinaigrette into the pan and stir, scraping the chicken bits from the bottom of the pan.  Keep the vinaigrette warm until it is time to eat. When you’re ready to serve dinner, spread the escarole onto a platter and arrange the chicken on top.  Drizzle with the warm vinaigrette, scatter the herbs over the chicken, and serve right away.

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