Thighs and whispers

Isn’t it about time you got to know the best parts of the chicken?

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Susan France

Like any parent, I wait until I see my child in person to have The Talk. So when Hans unexpectedly visited last weekend from his home in Oregon, I got my son alone in the car. Fathers like to do that because the kid can’t escape.

“Are you cooking much chicken these days?” I asked innocently.

He smiled and told me about cutting boneless, skinless chicken breast into chunks, coating them with black pepper, salt, garlic and various green herbs including chives and sautéing them in olive oil with diverse vegetables.

You can well imagine my deep disappointment. I thought I had raised my offspring with proper values, including a healthy disdain for chicken breasts in favor of thighs.

Years ago I was a true believer in skinless, boneless chicken breasts because they were diet-friendly and low fat. I cooked them every which way but fried. There was just one problem with the ubiquitous poultry item: They were dry, easy to overcook and often flavorless. (OK, maybe that’s three problems.) I saw the light at a Chinese restaurant when I asked the owner why a particular dish tasted so good. “We only use chicken thighs, never breasts. They taste like chicken,” he said (or words to that effect).

nibbles_chi3After that epiphany I only cooked thighs at home. I figured that if I was going to eat chicken it should taste chicken-y. As I taught Hans how to cook as a child, I encouraged him to devise a marinade and sauce to make the inevitable chicken with veggies and starch a little more interesting. He and I came up with the recipe below, although honestly, the formula changed depending on what was in the fridge. The dark, aromatic Grade B maple syrup is the real secret to balancing the flavor.

While Hans was here, we had a wonderful reunion dinner with family and dear friends and a menu that included spiralized zucchini with ghee, roasted root vegetables and mirasol chilies and a gluten-free Palisade peach pie. Ironically, we also were in charge of grilling some local, sustainably raised chicken breasts.  They were a revelation — big, juicy and full of chicken flavor that lasted days later as leftovers. The takeaway for me is that I was prejudiced, that it’s always worth it to invest in the best poultry possible and to always appreciate the whole bird.

Hans said he was always cooking the same few things at home and thus departed with clean clothes and my copy of Fay Levy’s International Chicken Cookbook (Warner) which is several years older than him. He said he probably won’t actually follow any of the cookbook’s 300 recipes from 75 countries but it would give him ideas. Like father, like son.

The following recipe adds a ton of flavor to chicken, no matter the part, as well as vegetables and other proteins.   

Sweet Hot Chicken Marinade

5 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup (or honey)
2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (or olive oil)
Fresh lemon juice and slices
Fresh ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper, chile flakes and/or sriracha sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Taste, adjust seasonings and thin as needed. Tenderize chicken by stabbing all over with a fork on both sides and soak in marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour and preferably overnight. Grill, sauté or roast to desired temperature. To use the leftover marinade as a sauce, bring it to a rolling boil for at least three minutes, strain and serve.

Tastes of the Week

Among my favorite chicken dishes served at local restaurants are: fried chicken (The Post), spicy chicken stew (Ras Kassa’s Ethiopian Restaurant), chicken masala (Curry-n-Kebob), slow-cooked chicken noodle soup (Aloy Thai), and chicken mole gordita (Sancho’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant). Send your favorites to: nibbles@boulderweekly.com

Fowl Moments

The Fried Chicken & Waffles Eggs Benedict at The Cheesecake Factory has been labelled “extreme” by the Center for Science in the Public which noted that the dish contains 2,580 calories — more than an adult needs for a day, and a scary amount of fat and sugar.

Local Food News

Frieda Caplan, the woman who introduced the world to kiwi, will make an appearance at the Flatirons Film Festival.Courtesy Flatirons Food Film Festival
Frieda Caplan, the woman who introduced the world to kiwi, will make an appearance at the Flatirons Film Festival.

Frieda Caplan, one of the best American dining critics and the amazing woman who introduced the world to kiwi fruit, will be in Boulder Oct. 20-24 for the Fourth Annual Flatirons Food Film Festival. The kiwi fruit pioneer will join Pulitzer Prize Award-winning LA Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold at the four day event, which offers feature films, documentaries and a kids’ program. Tickets: flatironsfoodfest.org. … Drink an ale and learn about Beneficial Insects in the Farm Ecosystem from local farmers on Sept. 27 at Boulder Beer Company as part of Pollinator Appreciation Month. The monthly Farmer Talk Tuesday series, sponsored by Colorado State University Extension and Boulder County Farmers’ Markets, is free, but the beer isn’t. … Hot food lovers are flocking to Pueblo this weekend for the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival. The air is permeated with a smoky and occasionally tear-inducing perfume, but the signature attraction: roasted green chilies inside a warm flour tortilla with melted cheese. … Boulder’s Motomaki, an offspring of Hapa Sushi, is opening a second location in Lakewood selling large, foil-wrapped sushi rolls including the popular Mochiko Chicken. … Zoës Kitchen opens Sept. 29 at Boulder’s 29th Street Mall. On the menu is a Live Med Salad with thin ribbons of zucchini and squash, farro, lupini beans, Parmesan, Calabrian pepper dressing and grilled chicken.

Words to Chew On

“There are aromatic substances held by the peppercorn’s black outer layer that release floral and citrusy scents, distantly evocative of thyme, marjoram, rosemary, and cedar. It is the promise of these aromas, traveling on gentle waves of heat that has rewarded black pepper with universal employment.” – Marcella Hazan in her posthumously published book, Ingredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market.

Former short order cook John Lehndorff hosts the 5-minute-long Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 FM, kgnu.org). Read his food blog at: johnlehndorff.wordpress.com.