This delicious, healthy, flexible and easy one-pot wonder is for all you weeknight warriors out there.
Whether it’s orzo, quinoa, farro or couscous, use whatever grain or small pasta you have on hand to pair with these perfectly roasted chicken thighs, caramelized onions and peppery greens. It’s all made in one pot and it takes just about 30 minutes or so to pull together.
It starts with bone-in skin-on chicken thighs (the only kind of chicken thighs you should be buying anyway), preferably organic, hormone free and free-range if you can swing it. I have to admit, I’m one of those non-negotiable organic people when it comes to milk, meat and eggs. There’s enough research on the dangers of added hormones and we know that chicks who are free to roam develop into healthier (..and tastier) chickens.
Granted, it can be hard to make conscious choices when companies purposely label their products with cleverly-vague terms like “natural” or “green” – but don’t be fooled. This does not mean your animal products are organic, grass-fed, hormone free or free range. Need a refresher on the labels and what they all mean? Bon Appetit does a great job of breaking them all down.
So – back to the recipe. This is a weeknight recipe after all, I better get to it! We’ve still got laundry to catch up on, pets to feed, shows to watch, children to attend to, wine to drink..you know the grind.
Basically you brown some chicken thighs in your wide oven-safe pan (I use olive oil and a little butter, but I bet you could use coconut oil here too if that’s more your thang) and finish them off in the oven. Once they’re cooked through and removed from the pan, you’re left with the flavorful schmaltz – otherwise known (and less fun to say) as fat drippings.
“Schmaltz started being used in English in the mid-1930s, and is unusual in that it began its life with a literal and a figurative meaning (most words wait a while before being used metaphorically). The literal meaning is ‘the rendered fat of poultry,’ a substance that is much in use in traditional Jewish cooking. The extended meaning of schmaltz was first applied to popular music of a cloying, or overly sentimental, variety.” Merriam Webster
From there, you add your onions and cook until they are wonderfully caramelized. If you’re really hungry/lazy/onion-less and don’t want to do the extra step of caramelizing onions, you can leave that step out and it will still be delicious – but those sweet, jammy caramelized onions give it a little extra texture and flavor.
Then, we’re going to cook those grains/pasta risotto-style, saving you an extra pot to clean. I love to make this with quinoa to keep it light, but I’ve also made it with orzo and pearl couscous. You can also serve it with a variety of greens, but I love the bright, peppery bite of arugula the best.
Cast Iron Chicken Thighs with Quinoa, Lemon & Arugula
serves 3-4. Makes great leftovers, hot or cold!
- 4 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
- 1-2 cups of quinoa* or 1 cup of farro, rice or pasta
- 2 big bunches of arugula
- 1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
- extra virgin olive oil and/or butter or fat of your choice
- salt + pepper to taste
- ~4 cups unsalted chicken broth you can use vegetable broth or water in a pinch also, but unsalted is important. If you only have salted, cut back on salt in recipe and while you’re seasoning.
- 1 lemon, halved
- cast iron or oven-proof skillet
- splash of dry white wine
- Preheat oven to 425°
- Remove chicken thighs fridge to allow them to drop to more of a room temp. I usually remove them from the packaging, pat them dry, and add salt and pepper and let them sit. Salting the meat beforehand allows for crispier skin.
- Heat cast iron skillet on the stove and heat to medium.
- When hot, add your oil or fat, and place seasoned chicken thighs skin-side down in the skillet, nestled together. Do not move them around! Let them get a deep, golden brown sear.
- In about 6-8 minutes, lift one up a little to see what your browning status is. If it looks good, flip them all over and place in oven.
- Cook for about 13-15 minutes this will depend on the size of your chicken. If you want to be extra sure it’s done, you can stick a meat thermometer inside a thigh and check for 165°
- Remove from oven, place back on that still-kinda-hot burner, and remove chicken from pan. Heat that burner back on to medium high.
- Add onion if using, (and season) and caramelize until deep golden brown and jammy, about 10 minutes.
- Remove onions from pan and add to plate with resting chicken.
- Add more olive oil if needed, and quinoa. Add a little salt, and “toast” the quinoa for a minute before adding your liquid. This is actually a risotto trick!
- Deglaze the pan with white wine, let it reduce, then add broth. Season to taste. The broth amount will also depend on the pasta/grain you’re using. For orzo or pasta, I use a little bit of liquid at a time (about 1 cup) adding more when it needs it and as it soaks it up. For quinoa, I’ve found it doesn’t make much difference and it’s easier to let it simmer all together.
- Once quinoa is cooked, add your greens, toss, and remove from heat.
- Add juice from half the lemon and toss.
- Add chicken thighs and onions back to pot. I have a lid I usually put on top of the pot to help the chicken warm back up again. You can also nestle the chicken inside the quinoa and it’ll warm up that way.
- Squeeze remaining lemon over the chicken and quinoa, and serve!
I’ve also topped this with feta as a variation on this dish, grated parm when I’ve had a hard day and I just need the cheese, and I’ve added fresh herbs like basil to this dish. You could even add tomatoes or try it with kale – this dish is super flexible and versatile.