Jack Thompson

People / Process / Trust

Chicken: Low and Slow

I tend to not prepare for dinner so much as walk into the kitchen and look around. In practice this means that I cook straight from frozen a lot. You can do it with thawed chicken but the timing is a little less forgiving.

Nothing about this is fast but it's worth it. Your goal is to render out as much of the fat as possible while not allowing the chicken pieces to boil in their own juices and while getting a good dark brown crust on the bottom of the pieces, and also skin so fatless as to be translucent. This means low and slow, but if you cook the chicken too long, the meat will lose all structuring and get mushy, so really it's more "low but not too low, slow but not too slow." At the end of the thing, you should be able to peel the skin off the thighs in a few, big, fatless pieces. This is built for thighs because they're easiest to work with, but the method works on legs or wings too, just keep in mind that smaller pieces like wings will cook faster.

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Arrange frozen chicken thighs in a cast iron pan and salt liberally. Put the pan into a cold oven, skin side up. Set the oven to 325F and walk away for awhile.

The actual cooking method varies but is generally something like:

90 minutes in, pour off the rendered fat

120 minutes in (or whenever you notice the skin is puffy and very slightly brown) flip the pieces skin-side down and press them it into the pan. Salt the bottoms.

150 minutes in (or whenever you notice the skin has browned), flip the thighs skin side up to further brown the bottoms, and salt the skin.

165 minutes in, pull the thighs from the oven to cool on a wire rack.

From here, you have a few options. You can eat the chicken as-is, or bone it. You can toss it (boned or otherwise) with a sauce and return it to the oven for a bit at a higher temperature to finish it. I like a combination of lemon or lime juice, and paprika and cayenne, or, more practically, citrus and hot sauce, with a touch more salt if necessary.

Buffalo wings are killer this way. Oyster sauce is also good. Fish sauce is also good. They're also good as-is, with salt, dipped straight into bleu cheese or sour cream.

If you do a sauce, toss the pieces in a bowl with the sauce until thoroughly covered and return to the pan, then back into the oven at 425 for 5-10 minutes until the sauce is warmed through and adheres, turning once.

It's also good to deglaze the pan to not let any of that good fond go to waste. For instance:

After removing the chicken to a wire rack to cool, fry onions in the hot chicken fat already in the pan along with adobo and tumeric and salt. Add a cup of long grain rice. Scrape around with a wooden spoon until the spices begin to adhere to the existing fond and the rice browns, then deglaze the pan with half a beer and scrape until nothing is sticking to the pan. Add a half cup or so of water and heat til bubbling. Reduce heat to low and cook until water is absorbed into the rice, adding water in quarter cup increments when necessary, until rice is cooked through.

While the water is absorbing and the chicken is cool enough to handle, bone the thighs (including the cartilege at the ends of the bones, they're never fun to bite down on) and separate the chicken from the skin, breaking the meat into bite-sized pieces as you go. Add the chicken to the pan towards the end of cooking (or earlier or later depending on how delicate the chicken is).

Cut the skin into strips (or don't) and top the chicken and rice with it. Serve with hot sauce and grated cheese.

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