Thursday, March 1, 2007

Yogurt Marinated Chicken

I dread the situations when students ask me chicken questions. I can tell you about sushi, making your own pasta, obscure cuts of meat, duck fat, breads of pork, weird vegetables, caviar, and truffles. I am not the right person to ask about chicken. There is really nothing wrong with chicken, I just don't crave it, and thus don't cook it more often than twice a year.

You might think I am exaggerating. Doesn't everyone buy chicken breasts at least sometimes? To tell you the truth, I can't remember last time I bought them. I think it must have been at least 2 years ago. If I ever cook chicken, I roast it whole. But last summer, I've discovered grilled chicken legs. They are so good, that even I get a craving for them at times.

Since I am not a chicken guru, I really don't know if this recipe is more complicated than it needs to be. Is marinating chicken in yogurt really necessary? Would just brining it in salt water work? I have no idea, and since I cook chicken twice a year, I don't want to mess with it. All I know is that this recipe produces the juiciest, crispiest, and yummiest chicken ever.

Since the recipe used to live only in my head, I could never remember how long to cook this chicken. I usually marinate enough for 3 days and the first day I always screw it up. The second and third days are perfect. Well, I got tired of eating overcooked chicken, so I finally decided to write it down.

Serves 4-6

8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken legs (skin on, bone in)
(I tried it with both and I prefer just thighs)

2 cups plain yogurt
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 inches ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup cilantro or mint
2 1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste (Please note that the original version of this post incorrectly called for 2 Tbsp of kosher salt. Thanks to Grace for testing this recipe and finding my mistake.)

Spice rub:
1 Tbsp coriander
1 Tbsp cumin,
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
2 tsp kosher salt (whether you need to add this depends on how salty your marinade was -- use your best judgment and skip if you are sensitive to salt)
1/2 tsp black pepper

Olive oil for grilling or broiling.
  1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Put chicken in a large zip-lock bag, pour in the marinade. Close the bag and refrigerate for 1-3 days.
  3. Remove the chicken from the marinade and dry well on paper towels before cooking.
  4. Combine all the spice rub ingredients together and rub all over chicken.
  5. Coat the chicken with a thin layer of oil.
grilling method:
  1. Preheat the grill to medium. Brush with a wad of paper towel dunked in oil.
  2. Place the chicken on the grill skin side down, cover, and cook until browned, 5-6 minutes.
  3. Flip, and cook covered another 4-8 minutes or until done. See the note about doneness below.*
broiling method:
  1. Set the oven to broil and place the rack 4 inches from the broiler.
  2. Wrap a broiler pan in foil and place the chicken in the pan skin side up.
  3. Broil until nicely browned, about 5 minutes.
  4. Flip, and broil until browned on the other side, about 5 minutes.
  5. Flip the chicken again, so that it's skin side is up. Turn down the oven to 425F, remove the chicken from the broiler and finish cooking in the oven for 2-6 minutes or until done. See the note about doneness below.*
*How to test for doneness: Start testing for doneness after 10 minutes of cooking for thighs and 12 minutes of cooking for whole legs. To test, cut into the thickest part of thigh avoiding the bones, and peek inside. The flesh should be opaque, but very juicy (the juices might have a trace of pink in them). You can also use an instant read thermometer, but make sure you are testing the temperature in the center of the thigh. With all the bones, it's kind of hard to know where the probe ends up, so it's a good idea to test in a few thick spots. For juicy, but cooked through chicken, you want to serve it at 170F. This means removing it from the heat at 165F. Let your chicken rest for 5 minutes after removing it from the heat. The temperature will go up another 5 degrees and the juices will be reabsorbed into the tissue.

Is this more than you ever wanted to know about testing the chicken for doneness? What can I say, I am a bit obsessed with doneness (no, I guess I am VERY obsessed with doneness). Interesting ingredient combinations are nice and all, but to me, the whole art of cooking lies in using the right amount of salt, and removing things off the heat at just the right moment. I believe that every food is perfectly cooked for only about 30 seconds (unless it's a braise). If you missed those 30 seconds, you missed perfection.


Anonymous said...

Yes marinating chicken with yogurt is necessary. Chicken is too chickeny not to be marinated:-) I use lemon, garlic, yogurt, salt & pepper and all-spice to marinate.

Pam said...

We often serve chicken in my house because (a) it's low-cal and (b) both of my kids will eat it.

I'm definitely going to try your recipe. One of the problems I have is that we don't eat plain yogurt, so when I buy a tub of yogurt, it goes bad before we've used 1/3 of it. A marinade will use a fair amount.

As an asside, last night I was making sauted chicken cutlets with a vegie sauce (onion, celery, broccoli and diced tomatoes) over spagetti. As I was finishing the sauce, I went to the fridge to get some cream to thicken it, and a goat cheese remnant caught my eye, so I grabbed that that instead.

Wow! It was like chicken parmesan [one of my guilty pleasures], without so much cheese.

Serve with green beans on the side.

Nice and simple...


Helen said...

Hi Pam,

Your chicken with goat cheese sounds awesome! It's interesting that you say that chicken is low-cal. To me it's as high-cal as it gets, because unless it's dark meat and unless it has skin, it's not worth eating (to me). That's why we don't eat it much -- if I am going to eat this much fat, I'd rather have beef, pork, duck, etc.

About yogurt... if you are ever stuck with a ton of plain yogurt and don't feel like eating it, you can easily turn it into vanilla yogurt by adding a little vanilla and sugar (let it sit a few hours before eating so that sugar can dissolve). Or my favorite is to substitute maple syrup for sugar -- yum.


Jason said...

Nice picture!

Anonymous said...

I'll admit, I'm a big fan of chicken--it sees lots of use in our house.

Regarding being overcooked, I think thighs and legs are much more forgiving than breast meat, which will indeed become dry and tough if overcooked. Of course, we also often cook chicken with sauces, which helps make the timing even a little more flexible.

Pamela, another use for plain yogurt is to mix some with about an equal amount of dijon mustard and stir in chopped dill until it gets "dill-y" enough. This makes an excellent low fat or non-fat [depending on choice of yogurt] sauce to spoon over pan seared salmon fillets.

Anonymous said...

I like the sound of this recipe! Nice pic!


Anonymous said...

I tried this recipe, and it was yummy, except that the chicken turned out way too salty. Even though you warned it would not be.

Helen said...

Hi Grace,

Glad you tried the chicken :) Next time, just cut down on salt some. Too salty is a relative concept, so our definitions might vary.


Helen said...

Hi again Grace,

I was wondering what kind of salt were you using?

I use Diamond Crystal, which is less salty than Morton's kosher salt and WAY less salty than table salt. If using table salt, you'd have to cut the amounts in half to get the same amount of sodium, and if using Morton's Kosher, you might still go about 30% lighter. And then, of course, there is adjustment for personal taste.

Your comments are very useful in improving the recipe. I'll try to be more clear next time.


Anonymous said...

Hi Helen,
I used sea salt crystals from France. I am a believer in using good salt, and have never tried kosher.

Helen said...

Thanks for letting me know, Grace.

I adjusted the recipe to suggest going easy on the salt in the spice rub to account for personal preference.


Anonymous said...

Mmmm...sounds like a great recipe. I really like the way you write and the perceptive tips. Keep it up!

Phil @

Unknown said...

Hi Helen,

I tried this!

I am having a get together this weekend and I usually make regular BBQ chicken with sauce and/or Jerk Chicken on the grill. However, this time I figured I will try something else. I found this recipe by searching on google and tested it last weekend. My wife does not like the taste of cilantro so I used mint( glad you gave an alternative). I used a whole chicken cut up so I had to go up on spices and yogurt portions but other than that I followed the recipe you provided Helen.

I have to say it was excellent! my wife also loved it! This was the most TENDER and moist chicken I think I ever had. I think it will be a hit this weekend if I can make it the same again. I am using two family packs of chicken this time to accomodate for the 4 couples that will be here.

I will let you know how it went.


Anonymous said...

My wife directed me to your site and I must say I love it.

This is the first recipe of yours that I have tried my hand at and I was not disappointed. My family loved it, too; the lone surviving piece of chicken did not make it past 3pm the next day.

I made the marinade in the space between the original posting of the recipe and its modification so it was a tad more like a yogurt brine than a marinade but salt is not a forbidden spice in my house and we loved the dish all the same.

I always had a knack for cooking and, while I don't know how you feel about TV chefs, about two years ago Alton Brown really got me going down cooking street. The style of cooking you present in your blog reminds me of AB alot.

I am looking forward to trying more of your recipes and if I'm ever in the area even trying one of your classes.

Thanks for the recipe,


Anonymous said...

I freeze my leftover yogurt and use it for a "starter" when I make more. Plain yogurt is great on your morning muesli, instead of cream on your strawberries and on salad instead of high fat salad dressing. Enjoy! This chicken recipe is great.

dhan said...

whether the difference between kefir and yogurt?
whether kefir has the same flavor of yogurt?
It looks very tasty

Helen said...

Generally, kefir is a lot more running (meant to be drunk, not eaten with a spoon) and a lot more tart. You can use it for this recipe, just make sure you get plain.

Shirley said...

It's a great recipe. Thanks for info regarding testing for doneness. I always want my cooking to b perfect.....even though I m not perfect in person . And I think Marinating chicken in yogurt not only gives it big flavor, but it also tenderizes the meat.
In India we usually use yogurt to marinate chicken. But we use sunflower seed oil for cooking n deep frying except salad dressing....that is always olive oil.

Kampus Terbaik di Medan said...

My wife does like the taste of cilantro so I used mint