Turn to the dark side
Tired of chicken breasts that grill up dry, flavorless? Switch to thighs, legs for richer eating.
Come to the dark side: We have cookies. Not really ..but we do offer some very flavorful chicken for richer eating. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
It's time to give bone-in chicken a chance, from the whole bird to the especially flavorful (and often less pricey) legs and thighs.
"The dark meat is the way poultry should really taste. It just evokes that beautiful flavor," says chef Hugh Acheson, who has several Georgia restaurants including Five and Ten and Empire State South.
Acheson, a cookbook author and Bravo "Top Chef" judge, understands the low-fat benefits of boneless, skinless chicken breast. "But everything in moderation. I want to equate my life to eating the most flavor I can, and flavor is really found in the dark meat.
"I have a family of four," he adds. "If I take four good chicken thighs and fry them or roast them in the oven really simply in a cast-iron pan and serve it with a bunch of sides, that's enough protein for us. ...That small amount of beautiful dark meat protein is definitely going to be a good meal."
And you'll often find bone-in thighs and legs are juicier than way-too-dry white meat.
At Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami Beach, executive chef Jeff McInnis offers free-range chickens and Poulet Rouge birds from North Carolina. He favors bone-in poultry. "The meat is going to be richer and taste more like the bird," he says. "The bone is sort of like an insulator (that) keeps some of the juices in. That's what keeps a lot of the flavor in."
When grilling a bone-in bird, McInnis browns it close to the coals, then moves it up onto a rack (or away from the coals) before letting it slow cook until done. "You want to get it away from the coals and basically your grill will act like an oven," he says.
Acheson has another reason to consider adding a platter of bone-in chicken to your meal rotation. When he oven-roasts a whole chicken, maybe split spatchcock-style set in a lightly oiled cast-iron skillet, "You're going to get a beautiful dinner in about an hour. It can be on a platter to share with your family, and that kind of brings people together in a simple way that a sauteed chicken breast isn't going to do."
Cook time: "Bone-in tends to cook longer but it tends to keep its moisture a little bit," says Acheson.
Basting: Brush sweet sauces on in the last few minutes of cooking or the sugars will burn the bird. "When you're about to pull it off, baste it and you'll see it dry up and caramelize on there," says McInnis.
Basic basting sauce: Or "a mop sauce is what we call it in the South," says McInnis. Just chop up a bunch of herbs and mix with vinegar or lemon (or whatever your acid is) then a tomato product or olive oil (whatever your base is) and "just mop it on."
Grilled chicken with lemon, mint and soy
Note: Adapted from Hugh Acheson's book, "A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen" (Clarkson Potter, $35). The original recipe calls for four poussin (young chickens) weighing about 1 pound each. We used chicken legs and thighs with excellent results.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes