Everyone has a recipe for marinated chicken thighs and this is mine. It’s a one pot meal. It is delicious and quick and easy. It ticks all the buzzwords necessary for a mid-week meal. It’s perfect if you’re cooking for a whole family and if you’re cooking for one or two it also just seems to work. Basically, you can customise this recipe to work for you – throw in some chillies if you want a bit of spice, if you don’t like leeks, onions, or potatoes then try sweet potatoes with sweetcorn or caramelised mushrooms with cabbage and bacon. You can put whatever flavours tickle your fancy into this wonderful marinated chicken dish. That being said, there are a few basic principles to follow and a few choices to make along the way. I’m going to be focusing on a recipe for pomegranate molasses marinated chicken with cinnamon, orange, and vegetables, but the tips and tricks will work for almost any flavour combination you fancy!
Before I dive head on into the recipe, I wanted to take a moment to talk about my new cast iron pans. I got them for Christmas and I adore them – I’d always been a bit sceptical in the past because I thought cleaning them was a chore and things stuck and…and…and. As it so often happens, the world enlightened me, and I thought I’d give them a go. I’m such a convert – the way they hold heat is fantastic and I don’t find things sticking much at all. I’ve started reaching for them pretty much all the time as they are perfect for putting into an oven – like for this Middle Eastern Cottage Pie with Tahini Crust, or simply for roasting a piece of duck breast. There’s only one thing you have to remember, they take a while to heat up which means if you put them into an oven whilst they’re stone cold they’ll spend the first while simply warming up and that will affect how your food cooks. In this dish, it actually gives you flexibility about how much broth you want left at the end – but more about that later..
The principles of this dish are very simple. Chicken skin is a great insulator of heat. In fact all skin is, it’s one of its purposes whilst the animal is alive and keeps performing the function even after they’ve become food (sorry to anyone squeamish out there!). This allows the skin to crisp up whilst the meat underneath remains moist and flavourful. Meanwhile, the vegetables and citrus release moisture, which again helps keep the chicken tender as they regulate the temperature further and help braise the meat. Yet further, by par-cooking any tough vegetables beforehand (I’m looking at you, potatoes), everything ends up cooking in the same time period and all the flavours meld together beautifully. As the meerkats would say…”Simples!”. The only thing you have to watch out for with marinated chicken is that you don’t let that marinade burn. Marinades are often high in sugars, in this case from pomegranate molasses, and sugars love to burn. If they’re browning too quickly, then you’ve either got to cool them down (with another layer of marinade) or cover them up (with a little foil).
This dish starts with marinated chicken thighs. People have asked me in the past whether this dish works with breast or drumstick meat so I thought it worth talking a little bit about the differences. We’re trying to achieve a few things in this dish; namely crispy chicken skin, succulent moist chicken meat, perfectly cooked vegetables, and a flavoursome collection of juices and marinade. Marinated chicken drumsticks simply won’t give you crispy skin in the same way thighs will, but they’ll work if they’re what you’ve got or if you don’t really mind. In this case, the marinade often doesn’t penetrate as well, so I like to slash the skin since drumstick meat is very forgiving and won’t dry out. Chicken breast meat, on the other hand, is very lean and can have a tendency to dry out when cooked entirely in an oven. This method goes some way to alleviating that by reducing the heat and increasing the moisture below the meat. The vegetables release moisture which both helps reduce moisture loss and regulates the temperature (which in turn reduces moisture loss). However, it’s the timing that’s the real problem. Some people like really well-cooked chicken breast, if it’s what you grew up with and it’s what you like then this will work perfectly. Roast those bad boys for 30-40 minutes and you’ll be golden. However, I like moist and juicy chicken breast and I simply can’t get that whilst also cooking the vegetables and getting crispy skin without pan searing. So, long story short, you can use any chicken cut you like, but for what I’m looking for it has to be marinated chicken thighs.
Soft vegetables like onions and leeks will cook in the time it takes the chicken to cook. Potatoes need a little more so I parboil them first. They only need 10-15 minutes then they’re good to join the rest. For things like butternut squash, I’d give it 20 minutes in the oven first to really get it going, but if you cut it into smaller cubes you can just throw it in there with the onions.
Here’s where you’ve got some choices to make. I mentioned before that the vegetables and the citrus release juice they actually release a lot of juice, and that juice is super delicious. The temperature of your pan going into the oven dictates how much juice, especially with a heavy cast iron pan. You see, ovens heat things up more slowly than stoves because air is a poor conductor of heat. That is great when you want an even heat applied to food, but in the case of a heavy pan it means it will stay relatively cool for a long time. During that time, the juices will build up and they won’t have time to evaporate, which means you get a loose broth at the bottom. This is very delicious, but thin, and it needs some rice or other starch to soak it up. If, however, you want a thicker sauce and don’t want to bother having to cook a side at all, then you want your pan a bit hotter when you put it in the oven. Simply place it on the stove for 5 minutes and then pop it in. It’s amazing the difference it makes.
I hope you enjoy this dish as a weeknight easy meal as much as I do. It’s even perfect to prep in the middle of the day, or the night before as you can leave it in the fridge until you need to cook it. It will chill out quite happily for a day or so before you simply pop it on the stove and then transfer it to the oven. Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your Aunt, dinner is served.
Pomegranate marinated chicken thighs with vegetables and citrus
- 1 orange sliced thinly (You can use a lemon as in the pictures above but I prefer an orange)
- 6-8 chicken thighs (or as many as fit comfortably in your pan)
- Handful of new potatoes
- 2 red onions cut into wedges (I do sixths)
- 1 large leek cut into 2cm rounds
- 2 cloves garlic sliced thinly
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- black pepper
- 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- Dry the chicken with kitchen roll. Try and remove all the excess moisture before you place it in the marinade.
- Place the chicken with the cinnamon, some salt, lots of black pepper and the pomegranate molasses and leave to marinate for about an hour. If you don’t have an hour then as long as you have is fine. Marinades don’t actually penetrate very deeply into the flesh and are more of a surface treatment anyway. Make sure to cover the flesh side as well as the the skin.
- Preheat the oven to 180-190 Celsius.
- Parboil the potatoes for 10-15 minutes in salted water until a little softened but not yet fully cooked.
- Place a little olive oil in the bottom of a pan and lay the potatoes, onions and leek on the bottom. Season with salt and pepper and add the garlic cloves. Place the sliced oranges in one layer over the top and the marinated chicken on top of that skin side up. Keep the marinade to one side.
- Place the pan on the stove for 5 minutes (skip if you want a lot of broth – see note above). Then place in the oven for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes remove and brush the top of the chicken with some extra marinade. Return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes until nice and golden and cooked through. If the skin is starting to burn then cover loosely with a little foil.
TimedEating tips and tricks for cooking ahead
- You can marinate the chicken up to a day in advance. Any more, and it can affect the texture of the meat. If you’re really pressed, it will be ok for two days, but any more is pushing it.
- You can parboil the potatoes 3-5 days in advance if you want – I must admit the whole meal is so quick I never do it earlier than the morning before when I’ve got guests for dinner.
- You can assemble the whole dish ready to go in the oven and leave covered for a day. As per the point about marinating, any more can affect the meat. But then you can simply place on the stove and then pop in the oven.
- It doesn’t freeze very well, but is delicious as leftovers the next day. It makes amazing sandwiches if you take a bit of everything!