3-Ingredient Chicken Dinner
This week on #rscookingschool we’re making dinner with just three ingredients—okay, six if we’re counting olive oil, salt, and pepper. Those precious few, plus one key technique, and you’ll have an easy and delicious meal on the table in 30-ish minutes.
The star ingredient? Chicken thighs. The method? Pan-roasting. It’s a simple one-pot approach during which you’ll start cooking on the stovetop and finish in the oven.
The good news is this recipe is endlessly riff-able. I like chicken thighs best for a couple of reasons. 1) They’re inexpensive, even the organic ones. 2) They’re almost impossible to overcook. Forget chicken thighs for an hour (speaking from experience) and you’ll still likely end up with crispy golden skin and juicy meat.
Thighs have more fat and connective tissue than ultra lean breasts. As they cook, the fat melts, keeping the meat moist and tender. Cooking chicken pieces with the skin on offers added insurance: that fat underneath the skin renders and bastes the meat while simultaneously crisping up the skin. For an easily distracted cook like me, I love an ingredient/dish/appliance that waits for me. But any protein with a decent amount of fat will work in place of the chicken thighs—pork chops, sausages, other bone-in skin-on chicken parts.
The other two ingredients are largely your choice. Last week I made this dish twice, once with Brussels sprouts and potatoes and again with mushrooms and onions. But you could try chopped broccoli or cauliflower, thick slices of sweet potato, or torn pieces of crusty bread (the most divine croutons you will ever experience). I’m particularly fond of adding an onion of some kind—halved shallots, sliced red onion or coarsely chopped leeks. My wish is you’ll make this lots of times and experiment to find out what you like. And the good news is this “recipe” is pretty hard to mess up.
Now that you have the general idea it’s time to cook. Ready. Set. Deep breath. Go:
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Season chicken thighs generously with salt and pepper. Bet on two thighs per person but know your audience. Feeding little ones? Make less. Want leftovers? Make more. Just don’t make so many that they can’t all fit in your skillet in one batch. And if you must, brown them in batches.
Heat a little oil (it should just cover the bottom) in a heavy-bottomed skillet or cast-iron pan. Add thighs, skin-side down. They should sizzle as soon as they hit the pan. If they don’t, take them out and wait another 30 seconds to a minute and start again. Cook the thighs undisturbed until the skin is a deep golden brown when you peak underneath. They should release easily from the pan when you lift them with tongs. Use tongs. Like these. I promise you will use them almost every night.
Flip the chicken and brown on the other side. This whole process should take about 10 minutes over medium-high heat. But don’t just stand there! Five minutes is a long time to stare at chicken wondering, “Now? What about now?” Use these five minutes of inactive time to your advantage and…
Prep your other two ingredients. Trim the mushrooms and/or sprouts, half or slice anything large, cut slower-cooking items (potatoes, those sprouts) into similar sized pieces so they cook at the same time.
Take a breath.
Using those tongs, transfer that beautiful brown chicken to a plate. Carefully add your prepped vegetables to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat in the rendered fat. Remember, fat equals flavor and using it here is one of the reasons this type of dish works with just three ingredients.
Place the chicken back on top of the vegetables, skin-side up and transfer to the oven. Set a timer for 15 minutes. The timer is your friend, use it.
You have now bought yourselves a quarter of an hour of precious inactive time. Use it as you see fit. Do any dishes left in the sink, set the table, pet the dog, whatever. This time is yours. Claim it!
When the timer goes off—you set a timer right?—remove the skillet from the oven. And for goodness sake use a thick potholder. That thing is 425°F! Now you can eat.
If my math is right (I’m really good at math) this whole process should take you about 30 minutes, and that’s including a bonus five minutes for dilly-dallying and/or unexpected interruptions.
Still hungry? You may be thinking, DP, can I serve this over rice? Why, yes, of course. Rice or couscous, quinoa or your favorite noodle would be great for soaking up any residual chicken and vegetable drippings from the skillet. You could also serve this with a hunk of crusty bread or over some crunchy salad greens. It’s up to you.
A word for the vegetarians: skip the meat and put a little more olive oil in the pan. Start your veggies on the stovetop as above. When they start to get some color, transfer to the oven. While your veggies are roasting, fry some eggs. Serve on top.
Three ingredients. One smart technique. Now that’s smart cooking.