After spending almost three days on a school field trip, I was eager to get back into the kitchen and cook.
The edible part of the trip was a blur of peanut and butter jelly sandwiches, pizza sauce-topped chicken patties and burgers of a strangely synthetic consistency. Sure the scenery was gorgeous (we were in the John Day/Fossil area of eastern Oregon), but there is only so much iceberg salad with ranch dressing a girl can take.
Time to hit the market to grab some real chicken and find some vibrant flavors to wake up some sleepy taste buds.
I reached for some plump, bone-in chicken thighs, one of the juiciest, most affordable cuts around. Craving different flavors than I’d had of late, I meandered through my spice drawer to see if something might jump out at me.
Hello, old friends. I am afraid you are all looking a little shopworn — shall we give you a spruce up soon? Maybe new labels, a proper swipe of a sponge, perhaps? (I guess I will have to add that to my never-ending to-do list).
It was in this drawer that I found a spice I hadn’t used in a while, and I knew immediately this was just the ticket for my welcome home meal.
Here you see the thighs marinating in fresh tangerine juice, sesame oil, and ground Chinese Five Spice blend. The latter can be a little hard to find, but take the time to seek it out; the mix is incredibly fragrant and adds a mysterious and intriguing depth of flavor to your food.
Are you not familiar with Chinese Five Spice?
Usually it’s a mix of star anise, clove, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns and fennel seeds, and in my blend the first spice was clearly the alpha. I used just one tablespoon of this along with the juice and zest of three tangerines and a splash of sesame oil for the marinade — plus a good amount of salt.
Just before it went into the oven, I poured a can of good chicken stock into the glass dish to lubricate the chicken and provide a base for a sauce.
As the chicken cooked, I made a pot of brown rice (adding in some chopped garlic and butter for bonus flavor) and got the broccoli ready for roasting (I spread it on a cookie sheet and drizzled it with sesame oil and sea salt).
One hour later, a feast.
The chicken meat had braised in the aromatic liquid, resulting in velvety tender meat and the skin had crisped up, rewarding diners with a tantalizingly crunchy lacquered top.
The advantage of all the skin poking out above the liquid level is that this allows some of the fat to drip down into the sauce and the skin to crisp up beautifully; every single person that has tried thighs that have been braised-roasted in this way has loved it. Too often I think the skin is an afterthought and the end result is rubbery or flabby skin. Yuck!
Here, the addictively crunchy skin is as much of a star as the fall-off-the-bone meat.
Now this is the only way I cook skin-on thighs: liquid on the bottom, party on the top.
Right before serving, I chopped up some tarragon and added it to the dish, and this proved to be a wonderful complement to the licorice-y fennel component in the spice mix.
The brown rice was the perfect sponge for the aromatic cooking liquid, and the broccoli was a verdant respite from the assertively spiced chicken.
Happily, I had a couple chicken thighs miraculously saved from our eating rampage last night, and so I was able to enjoy it a second time around for lunch today– this time with roasted cashews breathing new crunch into the warmed rice, rich with reserved pan juices.
Long live luscious leftovers– and being back home.