Chicken thighs underrated but loaded with potential

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Dan Bolyard/courtesy photo Chicken thighs are often overlooked in favor of breasts, but their meat can be more flavorful and stands up better to high temperatures.

Chicken thighs arenít the most glamorous pieces of the bird. Most people donít clamor for them, hoping instead for the wings (think bar food) or breasts. Wing pieces are extremely popular, but I think there isnít much meat on them for the trouble involved getting it off. I can think of one company making wing-like portions out of much cheaper and meatier thighs. Bone-in breasts are generally breaded and deep-fried, but I find that most of the time these white-meat portions are overcooked and chalky. The boneless and skinless versions are handy, but they too can be overcooked in a flash.

I like to cook with chicken thighs. These meaty pieces are all dark meat and can tolerate temperatures that would overcook the breasts. They are a bit more fatty too, helping the meat seem more moist. If you cook them right, they can each have their own cap of crispy rendered skin. If you like to eat the crispy skin on your Thanksgiving turkey, chicken thighs can give you a quick and easy fix nearly anytime. The last time I cooked up a batch of thighs, I tried something I had read about, in that I spritzed each with a bit of pan spray, then returned them to the ripping hot oven. This was to help fully render the skin. They came out with a level of crackly-goodness I hadnít had before.

I grew up having a form of chicken and rice from time to time. While I never asked mom for the recipe, it wasnít hard to replicate and cooks up quite nicely in the oven, or in a stockpot on the stove. Because the thighs are hard to overcook, they should be done by the time the rice is fully cooked.

The few times Iíve purchased deli-cooked fried chicken in the cooler at the local megamart, Iíll go for the thigh pieces first. Theyíll still be somewhat moist and tasty. Youíve seen the whole-baked birds? The thighs are always the best part. Hot or cold, the breast is usually overcooked, while the thigh is perfectly done.

BAKED CHICKEN THIGHS

1/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon onion salt

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground thyme

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. In a bowl, mix together the flour and the seasonings. Place each thigh into the flour and coat well. Place on the baking sheet. Place in oven to bake. Doneness times will vary, depending on the size of the pieces. Plan for at least 45 minutes. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should reach 165 when done.

CHICKEN THIGHS WITH RICE

1 cup uncooked white rice

1/4 cup butter

1 onion, chopped

2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

6 chicken thighs

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a baking dish, combine the rice, butter, onion and water. Nestle thighs into the rice and place dish in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until rice is fully cooked. If you want to cook this on the stove top, heat a large pot over medium high heat and place in the butter. Add the chicken and lightly brown on both sides. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover the pot with a lid. Allow to cook until the rice is done, stirring occasionally.

CROCKPOT BARBECUE THIGHS

6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup barbecue sauce, or enough to cover thighs

Lay chicken thighs into the bottom of a crock pot. Sprinkle salt and garlic on the thighs. Pour over with the barbecue sauce. Cook on low for 6 hours. Add more barbecue sauce with each piece, if desired, when serving.

MUSHROOM CHICKEN

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 chicken thighs

1/2 large onion, chopped

1/4 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon mild paprika

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

3 tablespoons sour cream

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil until hot. Add chicken and onion. Brown chicken on both sides. Add water and seasonings and mushrooms. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Cook chicken until temperature reaches 165 degrees, about 30 minutes or so, depending on the size of the chicken. When chicken is done, remove from the pan and set aside. Turn up heat to medium and stir in the sour cream. Stir well while heating through to create a simple sauce. Adjust seasonings. Serve sauce over the chicken pieces.

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