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In Praise of Chicken Thighs

This cut is juicier and tastier than breasts—and it’s easier on the wallet, too.

April/May 2018 Issue
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The first time I swooned over a chicken thigh, I was at The Purple Pig in Chicago. The restaurant’s name makes it obvious that it specializes in pork dishes, but someone at our communal table recommended the chicken-thigh skewers served with tzatziki and fried smashed potatoes. As promised, they were a standout—pieces of boneless, skin-on chicken fried to crisp perfection. What made them so good was the choice of the thigh.

As someone who used to mindlessly reach for skinless, boneless breasts when it came to cooking chicken for dinner, I became a fan of the thigh, and now I use it for most of my chicken dishes. Thinner than the breast, the more deeply flavored dark cut provides a perfect ratio of skin to meat, and it stays tender and moist even when cooked over high heat. Aside from having more flavor than breast meat, thighs are also cheaper—a bonus.

Here, I’ve collected a few of my favorite chicken thigh recipes and included why the thigh beats the breast. To try to replicate those Purple Pig skewers, I painstakingly boned some chicken thighs but left the skin on. While the result was tasty, removing the bones from chicken thighs was a thankless task. I decided instead to roast bone-in thighs in very high heat until the skin is crackly, and the meat, rubbed with lots of garlic and some paprika, falls off the bone anyway. Yum.

Another great way to use chicken thighs is in soup. Chicken Soup with Crucifers and Caraway is loosely based on one by Boston chef
Barbara Lynch. She uses a whole bird for hers, but thighs are easier to maneuver in the pot. On their own, they add plenty of body and rich flavor. After long cooking, thighs, unlike breasts, retain flavor, so the meat is delicious shredded and used in the soup.

I’ve seen recipes that say to use chicken breast because it’s so bland that it acts as a canvas for other flavors. With thighs, though, you can always taste true chicken flavor, even in highly spiced dishes like the Indian Chicken Saag or the Asian-inspired Spicy and Sweet Chicken Thighs.

So the next time you’re thinking of chicken for dinner, reach past those pricey breasts and grab the more humble thighs; your dish may just be better for it.

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