Alright, folks. After some long weeks of travel, of stormy weather, of presidential elections, of blog posts that are decidedly not about food — I have this one for you.
Today’s experiment is baked chicken — salt and pepper chicken — and I can’t actually take credit for it. A couple of years ago, I was talking to my mother on the phone, and she mentioned that she was doing it weekly. With nobody but me in the house anymore, I never want to cook anything too elaborate, she told me. And so I started doing this. I end up with vegetables on the bottom, and chicken on the top, and I don’t need to make anything else. It’s a one-dish dinner.
I was skeptical. Not that her baked chicken would be bad, but that it was the sort of thing that I would actually make. And then, on a visit home, she made it for me.
I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it here again: clearly, I need to listen more to my mother.
Having had it just the once, this baked chicken became a regular part of my cooking rotation, as well. It’s a perfect weeknight dish, in that you can throw it together in all of fifteen minutes, and then it’s just a matter of being patient enough to let the oven do its thing. But it’s also a perfect dish for company, in that it looks pretty, it smells wonderful, and like a classic roasted chicken — who doesn’t adore vegetables that have been cooked beneath a bird?
The version of the recipe that I’m presenting here isn’t as vegetable rich as it could be. I’m giving it to you with a recommendation of just potatoes, mostly because potatoes are the roasting vegetables that are most in season and available to me at the moment. But I would encourage you to expand and experiment. I’ve done this recipe with turnips and carrots, parsnips, zucchini, eggplant, and even broccoli stems. And it has just about always come out a treat.
The trick is not being afraid to cook the heck out of the dish.
You’ll look at this recipe, and think to yourself: an hour and ten minutes in a four hundred degree oven is going to be too long for those poor bird parts. But you’ll be wrong. The thing about it is that as the chicken cooks, its drippings baste the vegetables; and as the onions cook, their moisture steams the chicken. So what you end up with is a kind if liquid-less braise, wherein you could cook that chicken for a really long time and still have it come out tender, and flavorful, and not a bit dry.
Oh, and have I mentioned the crispy, crispy skin on top? For most of the folks to whom I’ve served it, that’s their favorite part.
At any rate, my point is this: give it a try. I think you’ll like it. And more importantly, my mother thinks you’ll like it. And how can you argue with that?
12 Bone-in Chicken Thighs (you could use some other chicken part, but why?)
12 Smallish Waxy Potatoes, cubed
1 Large Onion, sliced
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
1/4 tsp Dried Cayenne Pepper
Preheat your oven to 400F. To a baking pan (or oven-safe skillet or sauté pan), add the potatoes, onion, paprika, cayenne, oregano, and thyme. Add a generous pour of olive oil, about thirty grinds of pepper, and salt. Then mix well, and spread evenly so that the mixture covers the bottom of the pan.
Rub all of your chicken thighs with olive oil, and then salt and pepper them generously on all sides. Line them up on top of the potato-onion mixture, skin-side up, such that there is as little space between them as possible. Then place the entire thing in the oven for an hour and ten minutes.
At the end of that time, the chicken should be done. Taste the potatoes for done-ness, and if they need more time, remove the chicken to a plate and put the rest of the dish back in your 400F oven for another 20 minutes. Then, replace the chicken on top of the potatoes, and bake for another ten minutes.
Serve hot from the oven.