When I was little, Sundays after church, if we were very lucky, my mamma made fried chicken. She cut up a whole frier with kitchen scissors, dredged the chicken in milk and flour, and dropped it into an electric skillet filled with oil that she had carefully reserved from the last batch to save money. My brother and I fought over the drumsticks, juicy and sized perfectly for gripping by little hands. At some point I abandoned drumsticks for chicken breasts, probably because I thought the bigger pieces had to be better. I was obviously wrong.
As a grown up, I’ve returned to a preference for dark meat — the texture and taste are superior to breast meat. Friends I work out with have pointed out that breast meat is leaner and has more protein and fewer calories, but I’m convinced the difference is negligible compared to the net loss of taste. So, for my gym friends, and for anyone else who hasn’t tried dark meat in awhile, here are five reasons to come back to the dark side.
1. Flavor. I mentioned this before. Thigh meat has more fat and subsequently more taste. I like to buy boneless chicken thighs with the skin still on, but even without the skin the difference in taste is striking. Thai, Chinese, and Indian dishes often particularly call for thigh meat because as it cooks, the flavor is infused into the sauce. You’d miss out on this with drier, less flavorful chicken breasts.
2. Value. Boneless chicken thighs cost about $1.50 less per pound than boneless, skinless breasts. Buying local meat can get expensive, but chicken thighs are probably the most affordable locally raised protein source out there.
3. Nutrition. Loaded with protein and iron, chicken thighs are an excellent nutritional value. Thighs only have about 5 more calories per ounce than chicken breasts. A 3-ounce serving has about 210 calories, compared to a the same size serving of breast meat, which has 170 calories. It’s also true that chicken thighs have about twice the fat of chicken breasts, but they still have only about 7 grams for every 3 ounces, less than you will find in the same size serving of pork, beef, or lamb.
4. They Stand Up to Longer Cooking Times. Most crockpot recipes that cook for 8-10 hours call for chicken thighs or legs because chicken breasts get tough and dry when cooked for longer than 6 hours, even at very low heat. This is also true for recipes that call for chicken to be double cooked (browned and then roasted, or broiled and then added to sauce).
5. They’re better on the grill. Chicken thighs are bumpy because they’re made up of several muscles, unlike breasts, which are just one muscle. When the thigh bone is removed, those muscles are just loosely connected, which us why they look misshapen and kind of homely. The good news is that the bumps allow sauces and rubs to settle into the meat. Yum.
Here’s a simple recipe for roasted chicken thighs with big flavor. It’s a lazy girl’s version of Bon Appetit’s Roasted Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Oregano — when I was making it, I found that about half of the recipe was completely unnecessary because the meat had so much flavor without making a sauce at all.
- 4 large skin-on, boneless chicken thighs
- 1 large lemon
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- Preheat oven to 425°.
- Thinly slice half of a lemon.
- Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
- Spread 1 teaspoon of oil in a cast iron skillet and add the chicken, skin side down. Place skillet over medium heat and cook, browning the skin and pouring off excess oil fat to maintain a thin coating in the pan, until chicken is cooked halfway through, about 10 minutes. (Note: I had to pour off the fat three or four times. It helps to keep a bowl that can stand the heat of the hot oil next to you).
- Scatter half of lemon slices over chicken and half on bottom of skillet.
- Put the skillet in the oven, leaving chicken skin side down. Roast until chicken is cooked through, skin is crisp, and lemon slices on bottom of skillet are caramelized, 6-8 minutes.