Friday, November 30, 2012

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Prunes

"Mommy, when you were in Japan, Daddy cooked just like you," said my five-year-old daughter upon my return.  I beamed with pride for my husband.  You know the stereotype of a helpless father who is bewildered by diapers, laundry, school bus schedules, and dinner?  Well, that's not Jason.  I didn't return to find my kids eating twinkies for dinner.  While I was gone, Jason found the time to make frequent runs to Whole Foods and whip up things like seared tuna with asparagus for dinner and get a product release done at work.  Man, this guy is so competent, it scares me a little.  Sometimes I am glad he is not home in the mornings when I get kids ready for school.  He'd probably laugh at me.  "Competent" is the last adjective that describes me when I am dealing with kids.  Flustered and perpetually late would be more appropriate.

"Mommy," continued my daughter, "While you were gone, we had Ally and her Dad over for lunch and Daddy made your yummy chicken with prunes.  How did he know how to make it?"  "Don't you know," I answered, "Daddy is Mr. Incredible," I said with a straight face, but that didn't satisfy her.  "Yeah, but how did he know how to cook like you?" she asked persistently trying to solve the mystery of the chicken.  I opened my laptop and showed her my blog.  "See," I said browsing through posts, "all my recipes are here so that anyone can cook them."  "Show me the chicken," said Sammy.  Why does everyone in my family needs empirical proof to believe anything?  "Well, the chicken is not on the blog yet," I said.  "It's a newbie, but I e-mailed the recipe to Daddy from the airport, and conveniently he tested it for me."

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Prunes

This recipe is a combination of Judy Rodgers' early salting technique, Jacques Pepin's cooking technique (the slits near the bone are a brilliant idea), and my Mom's fabulous match of chicken and prunes.  Eventually, I found out that my Mom was not the only cook who combined these two ingredients.  Chicken Marbella in the Silver Palate cookbook made this combo extremely popular in the US.  But this dish never fails to stir sweet childhood memories for me.

If you don't have brandy, the recipe calls for, life will go on, but keep in mind that life with brandy is always better than life without it.  And for all you alcohol phobes -- yes, all the alcohol evaporates, so serving it to children and pregnant women is fine.

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetites)

4 chicken thighs, skin-on, bone-in (about 1.5 Lb)
3/4 cup water
2 Tbsp brandy (or more water)
12 pitted prunes
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp oil (grapeseed, safflower, and canola work the best)
1 garlic clove, peeled

Trimming and Salting (1 hour and up to 3 days before cooking)

Trim the skin so that it doesn't extend past the meat of the thighs.
Make a 1/2 inch slit on both sides of the bone to help the meat cook evenly.
Sprinkle with salt on both sides.
Let sit skin side up at room temperature for 1 hour or cover loosely and refrigerate up to 3 days.

Browning the chicken
Combine water and brandy in a pyrex cup or microwavable bowl.  Add the prunes and microwave until boiling, about 2 minutes.  Add balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.  Set aside.
Dry thicken thighs very thoroughly with paper towels on both sides.  Set a 10-inch heavy skillet (stainless steel if possible) over high heat.  If doubling the recipe, use a 12-inch skillet. Add the oil and wait until the first hint of smoke.  Swirl the pan to coat evenly with oil.  Add the thighs skin side down making sure they don't overlap.
Reduce heat to medium and cover.  Cook for 10 minutes checking occasionally to make sure the thighs are browning steadily, but not burning.  If necessary, reduce heat further.  Uncover, turn up the heat back to high and cook for 1 minute to finish crisping the skin.  Cover with a splatter screen if you have one to avoid the mess.
Turn off the heat, flip the chicken and cook for 1 minute (the skillet will still be plenty hot).  Remove chicken to a plate keeping it skin side up.

Making the sauce
Pour the fat out of the skillet, wiping the lip to avoid fat drips.  Add the prunes with their liquid.  Set the skillet over high heat and bring to a boil.
Grate the garlic on a microplane grater and rub the chicken all over with it.  Do all the skin first before your hands get wet with chicken juice to avoid making the skin soggy.

Check the temperature inside the thighs with a meat thermometer, making sure you don't hit the bone.  If you get 170F or above, the chicken is done.  If you get below 170F, add the thighs to the skillet with sauce keeping them skin side up to finish cooking them.  Check every couple of minutes and remove back to a plate as soon as they hit 170F.

Continue to boil down the sauce until syrupy and a flat wooden spoon dragged through the bottom leaves a trail.
Reduce heat to low.  Add the chicken back to the skillet along with all the juice that accumulated on a plate. Cook for 1 minute shaking the skillet to integrate the juice and sauce.  Take off heat, let rest 5 minutes and serve.
Leftovers taste surprisingly good, but the skin gets soggy.  Wasting crispy chicken skin is a crying shame, so I usually remove it, wrap around a prune, and pop in my mouth before refrigerating what's left of the chicken.

This technique lends itself beautifully so infinite variations -- mushroom cream sauce, coq au vin, chicken Provencal (tomato herb sauce), etc.


Anonymous said...

OMG beautiful!!

Is there anything one could substitute for prunes?

Helen said...

Of course :) You could skip prunes all together or use some other dry fruit: figs, apricots, cherries, cranberries, raisins, etc.

Unknown said...

Tried this recipe the other day. Came out great except that skin got stuck to the pan. I had really hard time getting it off and some pieces ended up without skin. So there went the crispy part...:-)

Helen said...

Hi Eugene,

Thanks for testing the chicken recipe for me :)

Tips on making the skin not stick:

Dry chicken extremely thoroughly. Make sure the skillet is very hot. Use higher heat to begin with. Once the chicken has cooked for about a minute, it's ok to turn down the heat. Don't move the chicken during the cooking process. If the skin is stuck, continue to cook until it lets go by itself. I find that some skillets are better at preventing sticking than others. All-clad and Tramontina tend to be very good. You can even try using a teflon pan. That will take care of sticking completely, but I do love the brown bits that form on a stainless pan.

موسوعة الطبخ said...

thank you so much =)