Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Lost Art of Chicken Thighs

"They're cheaper than chicken breasts so they're probably not as good."

"I dunno...they look pretty fatty to me."

"I'm a breast guy, not a thigh man."

I'm not sure why chicken thighs have gotten such a bad rap these days, but for someone that's just starting out in the kitchen, they're one of the easier meats to cook.

Reason 1: They're forgiving - I'm about 15% scared shitless of cooking chicken for other people. Red meat you can undercook. Fish you can undercook. Chicken? Nope. And as a result, I tend to cook the shit out of it (which usually means it's dry).  It's an irrational fear (and I know I'm being too self-critical); however, if I'm scared, then a young 24-year-old, trying to impress a girl, will be scared (well...or oblivious). Chicken thighs are forgiving, you can overcook them a little and they won't dry out. 

Reason 2: They're sneaky - That dark thigh meat is naturally flavorful and the small, intertwined pieces of fat just add to that flavor. Everyone knows that a dry-aged ribeye steak has more natural flavor than a New York strip. Why? The beautiful beautiful fat marbling of course...

Bone-in chicken thighs? Even better.

With just salt, pepper, and olive oil you can rock a pretty solid meal. You don't have to go all la cuisine de fran├žais on her (spending a whole paycheck on random spices and aromatics that you'll use just once while the rest becomes a 4th-grade science project in your fridge). So the question is, why wouldn't you pick a food ingredient that's already helping you out?

Trim the fat!
Reason 3: They're cheaper - Between the $10 shots of Petron and the $15 Bear Fights, food have become marginalized by our alcohol habits. I get it and I know, I'm in the same boat. So get happy, chicken thighs are typically $2-$3 per lb cheaper than their counterparts.

Reason 4: They're healthy - I don't buy the "it's too fatty argument." 75% of us ingest pounds of sugar and fake sugar, devour fried balls of dough, and pretend pork belly isn't just a gloried stack of fifteen glued-together slices of bacon. If you're conscientious (read: hypersensitive) trim the fat and/or buy skinless. And for this "Age of Nutritionalism" (cue Michael Pollan) that we live in, settle down, they're as nutritionally equivalent as their chicken breast counterpart.

Chicken Thigh Ideas:
If you're reading this far, I'm hoping I've "inceptioned" you into buying chicken thighs.  To help you out, here's a list of various meals that I've thrown together with a package of chicken thighs. In most cases, I've used what I already had in my pantry. Salt, pepper, and olive oil should always be staples. Red and white onions, garlic...maybe some ancho powder or Slap Ya Mama seasoning. BBQ sauce or soy sauce. An electric grill, a cast-iron skillet, or a just a motherfuckin' pot.

(Recipe links in the coming days)

Grilled BBQ chicken thigh w/ avocado, grilled onions, scallions on an onion bun. No pots, all on grill

My ultimate lazy man's, one pot, fake Southwestern chicken dish

Again, a one pot meal. Braised chicken in cast-iron skillet then roasted in the oven

Simmering chicken thighs in a reducing a white wine, red pepper & onion sauce

Simmered chicken thighs w/ caramelized red pepper and onions, wild grain rice, and yellow squash

Grilled chicken thighs with olive oil, salt, pepper, and Ancho seasoning

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tip of the Day: Clean your damn place

Back in the day whenever I had to stay late for work, every-so-often our company would pay for dinner. Our project manager's view was that the standard cornucopia of vending machine goodies - Fritos, Smartfood white cheddar popcorn, and Cheetos - did more to stain fingers and keyboards than provide sustenance for tired brains. We would order delivery. Nearly always Thai. And nearly always from the same restaurant.

In retrospect, the black, ballistic-quality, circular plastic containers packed densely with thick wavy rice noodles, chinese brocooli, and sliced chicken provided more of a "coma-effect" than a "work-effect," but we ate it. It was damn tasty, and it was my only way of rationalizing the extra billable hours without overtime.

** Fast forward 7 years **

One of the worst things you can ever do for yourself is to read a county health code inspection list of failed local restaurants. Naturally, all your favorite places are on that list and it becomes an executioner's song for all of your perennial late night jaunts. It's almost as bad as this story (before I learned that it was just an urban legend).

So OF COURSE, my favorite, extended-work Thai restaurant was on it. Bugs. Roaches. Dirtiness.


My mind was racing. "Was the number of consumed minced Pad See Ew bugs larger than the number of spiders that I've swallowed in my sleep?!?"


Naturally I've stopped eating there.

(And before I get emails from the pundits out there, yes I understand that no one cooks in a sterile environment. Yes, I know that when I'm camping and grilling outdoors, a dropped steak on the ground just adds "protein"...so I know... I'm not advocating super-bug creating, antibiotic hand sanitizer land - I understand that, but it's still gross)

So how does this relate to cooking for a girl at your house, you ask?



You may have spent days mustering up the nerve to ask her out, hours rifling through food ideas on recipes.com, and 5 minutes tending the microwave but that means nothing, NOTHING, if you don't clean your place.

You may be used to the post-shave scruff lining your sink, the hair on the bathroom tile, and the grease stains on the kitchen counter, but she's not. Its a new environment to her. Its like she's visiting your restaurant. You would never take her to a restaurant that had dirty bathrooms, used a single cutting board to cut both chicken and vegetables, and looked like a 3rd year college house. So why start now?

Clean your shit up.  You've invested hours into this date, why ruin it with something so trivial?