Every so often a little recipe comes along that is just a sheer stroke of brilliance. I love recipes like that. I live for recipes like that. The most recent one to make me do a double-take of glee is this one, from Bon Appetit's December 2012 issue (and shot by my friend, Brian Ferry!)
Okay, so you know how most chicken recipes make you first brown the chicken and then remove it from the pan to do a bunch of other stuff, then you have to put the chicken back in and yadda yadda yadda, it's done? I don't know why they bug me so much, but these kinds of recipes do.
Actually, maybe I do know why:
1. I am lazy (but you already knew this).
2. Mess, mess, messy. I dislike spattering cooking fat.
And 3. Okay, fine, in addition to being lazy, I am also impatient and never brown the chicken long enough, so it's always a little flabby instead of perfectly crisp and wonderful.
This recipe, the darling thing, is all about making sure that the skin never veers anywhere even close to flabby. What you do is put the chicken, skin-side down, in a pan with a little bit of oil and then let it cook for a good long while without touching it, over medium heat, so that the fat renders out, slowly crispening and crispening the chicken skin (yes, I did just make that word up).
As it cooks, you can periodically get rid of the cooking fat, if too much of it renders out, but that actually never happened to my chicken. Once the chicken is halfway done, you throw in a whole bunch of lemon slices and stick the whole pan in a hot oven, where the lemons soften and the chicken roasts until the skin is perfectly crisp and of a deeply lacquered loveliness.
How lovely? SO LOVELY:
Then, all that's left to do is to remove that lovely chicken to a plate and scrape a bunch of different things (garlic, minced onion or shallot and oregano - the recipe calls for fresh, but I used dried and it was fine) into the pan that you cook on the stove top for a little while. In goes wine and broth, or just broth, if you'd prefer (which is what I did) and then you reduce this to a nice, saucy consistency and pour it over your lovely chicken and eat right away because oh my goodness it smells so good you simply cannot wait another second no sirree bob.
The lemons mellow and sweeten in the cooking process, and the soft lemons and velvety sauce contrast beautifully with the shatteringly crisp chicken skin. This was seriously delectable chicken, people. I'll never brown a piece of chicken any other way again.
(Note: The original recipe calls for deboned chicken thighs but I made it with bone-in chicken legs, cut through at the joint, and just added a few minutes onto all the cooking times.)
4 large or 8 small skin-on, bone-in chicken legs, cut in two
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 sprigs oregano
1 small onion, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc), optional
1/2 to 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth (larger amount if not using wine)
1. Heat oven to 425°. Very thinly slice half of lemon; discard any seeds. Cut remaining lemon half into 2 wedges. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
2. Coat a large room-temperature skillet with the oil. Add chicken, skin side down. Place skillet over medium heat and cook, letting skin render and brown, until chicken is cooked halfway through, about 10 minutes. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, pour off the excess fat to maintain a thin coating in pan.
3. Scatter half of lemon slices over and between chicken. Transfer skillet to oven, leaving chicken skin side down. Roast until chicken is cooked through, skin is crisp, and lemon slices on bottom of skillet are caramelized, about 15 minutes.
4. Transfer chicken pieces, skin side up, and some of the lemon slices from bottom of skillet to a warm platter. (Leave a few softened lemon slices in the skillet.) Return skillet to medium heat. Add oregano sprigs, shallot, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
5. Remove skillet from heat. If using, add wine; cook over medium heat until reduced by half, 1-2 minutes. Add broth; cook until reduced and thickened, 5 to 6 minutes. Squeeze 1 lemon wedge over and season sauce with salt, pepper, and juice from remaining lemon wedge, if desired. Return chicken to skillet, skin side up, to rewarm. Serve topped with caramelized lemon slices.