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Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs
with Thyme and Garlic
By Charlie Burke

Click here for printer friendly version of this recipe

This time of year, local farms have healthy free range chicken whose flavor
makes them well worth seeking out. Besides supporting your local farmer, you
will serve your family humanely raised poultry which is far safer than that
raised in industrial farms. The surging “Eat Local” movement is increasing
demand for safer local food, and local farmers are responding to the market.

This recipe is a favorite of mine because it is full of flavor and takes only a half
hour to prepare. It is convenient for weeknight dinner, but I do not hesitate to
make it for guests. We always seem to congregate in the kitchen, so I can flash
the chicken for a few minutes over high heat on the stove and then have a glass
of wine with our friends while it finishes in a very hot oven.

This combination of high heat cooking renders nearly all the fat from the
chicken, while leaving the thigh moist and tender. The fat is poured off, and
then a simple sauce is made from a reduction in the pan. Here, very good wine
vinegar is reduced as the rich fond in the pan from the roasting is incorporated.
Water then is added and boiled down and a small amount of butter is added,
resulting in a mildly acidic sauce which perfectly complements the rich flavor
of the chicken, which is called
poulet au vinaigre in France and is popular on
bistro menus.

I prefer chicken thighs because they retain moistness better than the breasts, but,
if only whole young chickens are available, ask your farmer to cut the chicken
into eight pieces: each breast, the wing sections, and the thighs and legs. I roast
the thighs for fifteen to twenty minutes, depending upon size, but if using an
entire chicken, the wings and breast pieces would be removed and checked for
doneness after ten minute in the oven, with the thighs and legs continuing for
five to ten additional minutes.

Four servings:

8 chicken thighs, bone in or one small chicken, sectioned as above
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute (we think Earth Balance is best)
Cloves from 1 large head of garlic, unpeeled
Several sprigs of thyme
½ cup good quality red wine vinegar or use balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place a rack in the lowest position. Place a
large sauté pan over high heat until it is very hot. Liberally season the chicken
on both sides with salt and pepper, add the oil to the pan and place the chicken
skin side down into the oil and then add the thyme and garlic.

The chicken may stick initially, so leave it untouched for several minutes. Lift
the pieces then with tongs, leaving them another minute or two if they do not
release easily from the pan. When the skin is deeply browned, turn the pieces
and place the pan on the lowest rack in the preheated oven.

If using all thighs, check them at 15 minutes for doneness: 175 degrees if using a
thermometer or simply cut into one to see if the juices are clear. If necessary,
return them to the oven for 5 additional minutes. If using pieces from an entire
chicken, check the breast and wing pieces at 10 minutes and cook the thighs and
legs as described.

When done, remove the chicken to a plate and discard the fat from the pan.
Over high heat boil the vinegar until it is reduced slightly. Scrape the fond from
the bottom as the vinegar boils. Add the cup of water and continue to boil until
reduced and slightly thickened.

Return the chicken to the pan and coat thoroughly with the sauce. Serve on
warmed plates with greens such as sautéed spinach or Swiss chard and boiled
or roasted potatoes.

Acidity is a chef’s secret for brightening sauces and soups, and in this recipe
using good vinegar makes a difference. Sherry vinegar is a favorite of mine, but
in this preparation I used red wine vinegar from Italy which I found in Boston’s
North End and cost little more than supermarket brands.  

This is a version of a classic French recipe, in which I was able to use the first of
our crop of hard neck red garlic and fresh thyme from the herb garden, but
preparing chicken in this way is versatile, so consider this a master recipe. For a
Provencal preparation, omit the vinegar and add chopped tomatoes, rosemary
or herbes de Provence, along with garlic and brined black olives to create the
sauce. Acidity from wine works, as well, so a cup of red or white wine will
make a flavorful reduction. The sautéing and roasting times remain the same,
so experiment with your favorite herbs and flavors and use this recipe for a
great family meal or for easy entertaining.

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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