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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Boneless chicken thighs are the star of these easy dinners

Chicken and orzo with sun-dried tomato and basil vinaigrette

By Eric Kim

For tired home cooks, the boneless, skinless chicken thigh can feel like a dinnertime paragon of protein. There are many reasons to love it: Unlike its more finicky cousin — the boneless, skinless chicken breast — the dark-meat thigh is able to retain its moisture even when blasted with high heat, so it’s difficult to dry out. And without the bone, the cut, sometimes referred to as a “chicken thigh fillet” in England, is easier and quicker to prepare, not to mention more flavorful.

It is, arguably, the best cut of chicken for everyday cooking.

But its popularity is fairly recent, and we might have Gene Gagliardi — the inventor of Steak-umm — to thank for increasing its modern availability at supermarkets in the United States. In the early 1990s, Galiardi sold KFC a patented method for deboning thighs with a machine, resulting in the invention and great commercial success of popcorn chicken, Craig Cavallo wrote on the website Serious Eats.

While people have probably boned and skinned chicken thighs for as long as we’ve been eating chicken, the USDA began reporting prices for this particular cut in 2003, and the demand for boneless meat has been rising steadily since. (Sales for deboned chicken thighs have grown about 50% in the past year alone, said Stephen Silzer, a senior director of marketing for Tyson. “It is the fastest growing form of fresh chicken,” he said.)

Those of us who partake in the many delights of boneless thighs know that they need little more than salt and pepper, and a couple turns in a hot oiled skillet, to become dinner. One common misconception is that dark meat takes longer to cook than white, but the difference in cooking time is minimal when it comes to boneless chicken and it always stays juicy.

The following dishes, each anchored by a flavorful marinade, showcase the potential of this cut, which, like any protein, can be dressed up in all manner of ways (though a fried chicken sandwich is never a bad idea).

The main draw is this: If you marinate your chicken in the morning or the night before, then dinner will be waiting for you, not the other way around. The cooking method is up to you; boneless thighs can be roasted, sautéed or pan-fried.

Chicken and orzo with sun-dried tomato and basil vinaigrette

This comforting pasta dish tastes great warm, right off the heat, as well as cold, straight from the fridge, making it a top contender for lunch. The deeply savory sun-dried tomato and basil vinaigrette marinates the chicken, to keep it tender when stir-fried, and doubles as a sauce for the orzo and feta.

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes’ marinating

8 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, plus 6 tablespoons oil from the jar

2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 pound orzo

1 (4-ounce) block feta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. In a food processor, blitz the sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, the basil, vinegar, red-pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Transfer half of this vinaigrette to a medium bowl, add the chicken and turn to evenly coat. Cover and refrigerate the chicken for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

2. While the chicken marinates, transfer the rest of the vinaigrette to a large bowl. Add the diced tomato and toss.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the orzo and transfer it to the bowl with the tomato; toss to combine.

4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add the chicken with its marinade and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden on all sides and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked chicken and all of its juices to the orzo. Add the feta and toss to combine. Taste and add more salt as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate, covered, and enjoy cold for up to 4 days.

Pan-seared chicken thighs with parsley and lemon

Parsley stems are puréed in a bold and garlicky buttermilk marinade that tenderizes the meat, then the leaves and their tender stems are sautéed like spinach and spritzed with fresh lemon. After a quick sear on the stovetop, the well-marinated chicken thighs gain caramelized edges — and their bright, herbaceous flavor will make you think, “Oh, that’s what parsley tastes like.”

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes’ marinating

1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley (3 to 4 ounces)

10 garlic cloves, peeled

1 jalapeño, stemmed

2 tablespoons capers

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus wedges for serving

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Olive oil, as needed

1. Separate the tough parsley stems from the leaves and tender stems. Coarsely chop the tough stems.

2. In a food processor, add the chopped parsley stems, garlic, jalapeño, capers, lemon juice, sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and the buttermilk; blitz until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the chicken; turn to evenly coat. Cover and refrigerate to marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

3. Heat a large, preferably nonstick skillet over medium-high and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the reserved parsley leaves and tender stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until considerably wilted and bright green but charred in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; transfer to a platter.

4. In the same skillet over medium-high, add enough oil to coat the bottom. Add the chicken with its marinade and cook until browned and caramelized in spots, 7 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer to the platter with the parsley and serve with lemon wedges, for spritzing.

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