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Chicken Thighs Poached in Olive Oil
By Charlie Burke

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with low temperature cooking, finding in slow
preparations of beef short ribs and pork shoulder that this method intensifies the
flavor of the meat and the accompanying herbs and aromatic vegetables. The
finished meat is very moist and has amazing tenderness, and timing is easy
because the meat can be held at serving temperature in the oven or prepared
ahead and reheated.

Chefs have started poaching fish, especially salmon, in olive oil at low
temperatures, and I found a fillet I prepared that way to be amazingly moist, so I
decided to try poaching chicken at low temperature in olive oil. I have done a
recipe for chicken thighs seared and then oven roasted for this column, and this
high temperature recipe gave excellent results, but the moist tenderness of the
poached thighs and their intense flavor were remarkable.

This preparation is simple and the cooking time is three hours or so, freeing the
cook for other tasks. Chicken thighs are used because the dark meat is richer and
has more moisture than breast meat and having all pieces the same size ensures
that they will cook in the same time. Whole cloves of our recently harvested
garlic and sliced onions were the aromatics chosen for this dish, and a few sage
leaves were added to flavor the oil. I also added some Nicoise and green olives
because I particularly enjoy them and they remind me of dishes in France and
Spain.

Although a large volume of oil is used, it is not absorbed by the chicken, and the
pieces are wiped of excess oil before serving, so there is no more fat in this dish
than in any roasted or sautéed dish. Because the oil is used at low temperatures,
it can be strained, refrigerated and saved for similar preparations or to add
flavor to sautéed vegetables or potatoes.

4 servings:

Eight chicken thighs, skin on, preferably form local free range chickens
4-5 whole peeled garlic cloves
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Sea or kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
3-4 fresh sage leaves, thyme sprigs or pieces of rosemary
Nicoise or other olives - optional
Extra virgin olive oil.

Choose a sauté pan or other heavy bottomed shallow pan just large enough to
hold the thighs in one layer. Place the pan over medium-high heat and film with
olive oil. Season both sides of the thighs with salt and pepper and place skin
side down into the pan. Do not crowd the pieces.          Sauté (in 2 lots if
necessary) until the skin is nicely browned – approximately 5 minutes. Remove
the thighs from the pan and pour off fat.  

Spread the onion slices and herbs over the bottom of the sauté pan and place the
thighs with the skin up into the pan. Scatter the garlic and olives among the
thighs and add olive oil sufficient to bring the level up to but not covering the
skin. Place the pan into a preheated 225 degree oven.

Check the temperature of the thighs at 2 hours. If the temperature is approaching
160 – 170 degrees, lower the oven heat to 185; if the temperature is lower, leave
the oven at 225 degrees. Check the temperature every thirty minutes until it
reaches 175 degrees. The thighs cannot overcook if they are cooked at their 175
degree serving temperature, so an easy alternative is to lower the oven to 175
degrees as the thighs reach 150-160 degrees and keep them in the oven until
serving time (just be sure that they have reached 175  degrees).

Cooked thighs can be held in the oven at 165 - 175 degrees for at least 2 hours or
can be removed, cooled and refrigerated, covered with foil, to be reheated in a
325 degree oven until the thighs reach 165-170 degrees.

To serve, remove the thighs from the oil and pat with paper towels to remove
the oil. Serve on warmed plates with the garlic and onions and olives, if using.  
Roasted or mashed potatoes and your choice of fall or winter vegetables
complete the plate.

This is a perfect preparation for fall and winter weekends for entertaining or for
your family. A full bodied red wine, such as a Cotes de Rhone or a Rioja would
go well with the Mediterranean feel to this dish. We cook extra and like to
remove the meat from the bones to be served on a salad with vinaigrette made
with some of the olive oil from the recipe or reheated in the jelled juices found
around the refrigerated thighs after skimming off the congealed olive oil.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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