Friday, August 19, 2011

Cumin-Crusted Chicken Thighs with Tomatillo Salsa

The chicken thigh: a truly underappreciated cut of meat. When it comes to chicken, most people go directly for the breast, skipping out on the best meat this bird has to offer. Sure, everyone loves a good piece of white meat, but dark meat is in fact juicier and more flavorful than its lighter cousin. Dark meat gets a bad rap as the 'unhealthy' part of the chicken, but the numbers don't lie— thigh meat is by no means bad for you. One unit of skinless thigh meat removed from a 1-lb ready-to-cook chicken (31 g) contains 65 calories, 3 g of fat and 1 g of saturated fat, where as one unit of skinless breast meat (52 g) contains 86 calories, 2 g of fat, and 1 g of saturated fat. So yes, thigh meat has slightly more calories and fat than breast meat, but you also eat less meat when you eat a thigh versus a breast. And personally, I think the small difference in calories and fat is worth the huge difference in flavor.

I'll admit, I too used to be a sucker for white meat, but my taste in chicken has evolved over time, and I have come to recognize the value of the thigh. It develops a delicious crispy exterior when roasted or grilled, and the skin keeps the meat nice and moist while it's cooking. Even if you prefer to eat it without the skin, the meat is great on its own, and is still juicier and more flavorful than breast meat.

The hidden gem of poultry— chicken thighs

This recipe is one of several I've tried out this summer using chicken thighs (see this Recipe of the Week), and I was impressed with the results. The meat is juicy and tender with a kick from the cumin-salsa verde combo, and the medley of spices creates an aromatic rub that packs a flavorful punch. The recipe makes plenty of seasoning, so save the extra and use it later on chicken breast, pork or shrimp.

I paired the chicken with my grilled corn & tomato salad and a side of grilled asparagus, which made for an attractive and colorful plate. While I did eat the leftovers for a few days afterwards, the chicken definitely tasted best fresh off the grill, so maybe not an ideal dish to leave sitting in the fridge. Whether you're eating it immediately or a couple of days later, make sure and serve the chicken warm and the salsa chilled.

Bon appetit!

Cumin-Crusted Chicken with Tomatillo Salsa
Serves 4
Tomatillo Salsa Verde
1 lb. fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
1 fresh jalapeƱo chile, chopped
1/2 large white onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp light brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper

To make the salsa, coarsely puree tomatillos, chile, onion, garlic, water, salt and lime juice in a blender until relatively smooth (mixture will still be a little chunky). Transfer mixture to a small saucepot and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. This allows the moisture released from the tomatillos to cook down. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool to room temperature or refrigerate to chill. Stir in cilantro, cumin and lime juice and salt to taste. Note, this recipe makes 2 cups of salsa, so you will have plenty left over. 

I substituted the salsa verde on Epicurious for my personal favorite recipe

While the salsa cools, make the cumin crust rub. In a small, dry frying pan over low heat, toast the cumin, stirring often, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Pour onto a plate and cool.

In a small container with a tight-fitting lid, stir together all the spices with 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper. Cover and shake vigorously to mix. Note, you will have plenty of rub left over. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 1 month.

To make the chicken, combine chicken and oil. Toss to coat. Transfer thighs to a platter or baking dish and sprinkle evenly on all sides with the cumin rub. Set aside at room temperature.

Prepare a grill for indirect grilling over medium heat and brush and oil the grill grate. If you don't have a grill (or yours is out of gas like mine), use a grill pan set over medium heat and spray with PAM or another non-stick cooking spray.

Place chicken thighs, meaty side down, on the grill or grill pan. Cook, turning as little as possible (once is ideal to develop nice grill marks), until chicken is firm to the touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone registers 175° F. Epicurious says 10-15 minutes per side, but it took me closer to 20-25 per side (this may have been because I was using a grill pan). 

Remove chicken to a platter and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve topped with the tomatillo salsa. 

The rub gives the chicken a crispy, brown crust that is visually appealing and tasty

Source: Epicurious, chicken, and salsa courtesy of Justin Keith of Food 101 in Atlanta, GA

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