It's safe to say that a chicken thigh is done when its internal temperature reaches 165°, but for rich dark meat that's tender and buttery, you have to push higher. Thighs are well-worked muscles, with more collagen and connective tissue. That means getting the meat to 180° or higher for at least an hour. Use the method here, in which the meat cooks for nearly two hours; you'll be rewarded with moist chicken that almost melts in your mouth. Serve on crusty toast slabs or a bed of pasta. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper if you'd like a little kick.
Ingredients & Why:
2 tablespoons butter, divided — To tilt this in a rounder, richer direction.
2 cups fennel bulb, shaved (about 2 bulbs) — The fennel will nearly melt into the dish. That's elegant.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt — To season.
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs — They're easy, rich-tasting, and affordable.
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, drained — They provide most of the moisture in the dish, making for what's essentially an oven simmer.
12 cloves garlic, cut into 1/4-inch-thick-slices — Sliced thick so they hold up, and you can experience the gloriousness of a sweet chunk of garlic on your fork.
3 lemons, sectioned — We're not looking for structure from the lemon. Indeed, we section here so the lemon flesh collapses fully into the sauce. That's why it's being removed from any white membrane.
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves — It seems like a lot, but with the long cook time, the flavor softens and becomes more foundational, less punchy.
1 (1-ounce) slice whole-wheat bread — For some color and more depth of flavor than white.
2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese, grated — Tomatoes. Parmesan. Delicious.
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped — To finish fresh.
View Recipe: Slow-Baked Chicken Thighs with Tomato, Fennel, and Lemon
Or, for a variation, try Tomatillo and Chayote Chicken.
Keith Shroeder, chef, culinary educator, and entrepreneur, has led kitchens at resorts, restaurants, catering companies, and luxury hotels throughout the nation. A graduate of the Art Institute of Atlanta and Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, Schroeder is the founder and CEO of High Road Craft Ice Cream and Sorbet, sold in retail venues such as Whole Foods Market and served by fine restaurants, hotels, and airlines. He currently writes Cooking Light magazine's "Cooking Class" column and actively lectures and teaches others his culinary secrets. His first Cooking Light cookbook, Mad Delicious, comes out October 2014. Schroeder lives near Atlanta, GA, with his wife and two children. Connect with Keith Schroeder via Facebook and Twitter.