If there's one cut of meat that is seriously underrated, it's the chicken thigh. Thighs are by far the tenderest part of the chicken. Because it's dark meat, it has a little more fat than chicken breasts, and that translates into also having a ton of flavor -- unlike its lighter counterpart.
Just like chicken breasts, however, the thighs are extremely versatile. You can use them in stir-fries, roast them on their own, and even bread them to turn them into chicken fingers. To make the tastiest chicken thighs ever, try any of these ideas below.
1. Know when to remove the skin, and when not to
Chicken skin can sometimes be the best part of the bird. But not always. So when do you remove the skin from chicken thighs, and when do you leave it on? If you're giving the thighs a dry cook -- that is, they won't be sitting in liquid as they cook -- keep the skin on. As the chicken cooks, that skin will act as a barrier to keep the juices inside, and you'll be able to enjoy the crispy, delightful treat that's the chicken's best surprise.
If you're going to braise the meat, particularly if the liquid will completely cover the chicken, remove that skin. With braising, it'll become rubbery and flavorless, and definitely will not be the best part of the chicken.
To remove the skin, find the loosest side on the thigh. (On one side, the skin lifts up easily. On the other, the skin is firmly attached to the chicken.) Take the loose side and gently pull to lift up the rest of the skin. If you find the chicken slippery, use a paper towel to do this.
2. Cook the chicken bone-in
For a few years, boneless and skinless meat, especially chicken, was the only way to go. But now we continue to learn that bone-in, skin-on meat isn't so bad after all. The bones actually infuse huge flavor into the meat as it cooks. Whenever you can, choose bone-in chicken thighs over boneless. Whether you keep the skin on or not will depend on your recipe, but leave the bone in. It's easy to cut around as you eat it, and your dish will be much better for it.
3. Know how to take that bone out
Okay, so the above point went on and on about how much better chicken thighs are when the bone is kept in. And that's true. But, sometimes that bone just isn't practical, such as when you're using chicken thighs in a stir-fry or slicing them up in a salad. In such cases, you've got to know how to take the bone out when you need to. Luckily, it's easy to do.
Flip the chicken thigh over so you're looking at the rough, knobby side. Feel along the center of the meat for the thigh's single bone. When you find it, score the meat lengthwise just beside the bone. Use a sharp knife and be sure to keep your fingers back or tucked under. Make small flicks with the knife, just until the top of the bone is exposed. Scrape the meat off the top of the bone, and, using a paper towel, begin to pull the bone out. Either twist it or cut it to completely remove it from the thigh, and then cut away any cartilage or gristle that may have remained on the meat. Now you can use the chicken thigh the way you'd planned to.
4. Pat the chicken dry
Chicken thighs always have to be patted dry. This is particularly true if you worked with the chicken to remove the bone or skin before cooking. But even if you didn't, there will be juices on the chicken from its packaging. If you start to cook the meat without patting that moisture dry, it's going to steam, and you're sure to get tough, rubbery chicken thighs. So, before you go any further, take a paper towel or two and pat it the thighs dry on all sides.
Remember not to place it back into its original packaging as you pat the other pieces dry. Instead, lay them on a separate baking sheet or in a clean casserole dish.
5. Sear it first
Chicken thighs need to be seared. If you're roasting them, sear before putting them in the oven. If braising, sear before you add the liquid or place them in the slow cooker. Even with stir-frying, those chicken thigh cubes need to be seared before you start adding other ingredients. This will caramelize the chicken ever so slightly and impart a flavor that's missing if the meat isn't seared first. No matter how you're cooking those thighs, give them a nice sear in a very hot pan with a bit of oil before moving on with the rest of your dish.
6. Create a crust
Again, it doesn't matter whether the chicken thighs are boneless or still have the skin on. Crust is important when making chicken thighs, because not only does it also help the chicken retain moisture, it's also so much more flavorful! To create a crust, dredge the chicken thighs in flour and go for a full breading, or just make a dry rub with your favorite seasonings. Either of these options will create a delicious crust and give you even more chicken thigh goodness to enjoy!