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COOKING FOR TWO: Chicken thighs atop leeks, lemons simply sublime

by G. Daniela Galarza, The Washington Post | March 1, 2023 at 2:19 a.m.
Roasted Chicken Thighs With Leeks and Lemons (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)

Confit is a French verb traditionally meaning* to cook food in its own fat. Duck confit, in which duck legs are immersed in duck fat and then slowly braised until they're meltingly tender, is a classic of the genre. But all sorts of foods can be confited, in either their own fat or another type of fat. In this recipe for Roasted Chicken Thighs With Leeks and Lemons, I stretch the definition slightly.

You start with bone-in, skin-on thighs, which tend to be fattier than other cuts of chicken. Salt the thighs, front and back, and then slide your finger under the skin to loosen it. This will allow the oven's hot air to circulate beneath it. I find that this produces an especially crisp chicken skin cap on each thigh.

Chicken can be roasted on top of virtually any vegetable, fruit or starch. Here, I wanted something that would absorb and then cook in the fat of the chicken as it renders out into the pan. Leeks were a natural choice. As the chicken's fat and juices drip down onto the alliums, they don't just roast — they confit in that fat, their many layers softening into satin in the oven's heat.

Inspired by another classic dish, leeks vinaigrette, I added slices of lemon to the pan. The peel scents the chicken, and the tart, fruity juices of the citrus mingle with the fat from the bird to produce a rough vinaigrette.

There's little I enjoy more than sneaking a bit of crisp chicken skin and dipping a piece of crusty bread into the pan juices of this easy weeknight roast. As the cook, you deserve a little treat before sharing the pan with everyone else.

*Confit can also refer to candying, as in confit fruits, in which whole or cut-up fruit is slowly simmered in sugar syrup until the fruit's moisture is partially or fully replaced by the syrup, turning nature's candy into actual candy.

Variations: To make this vegetarian, replace the chicken with mushrooms, such as portobello or hen of the woods. Rub them with a touch of white miso and toss them in the oil and salt as you do the leeks and lemons.

Instead of leeks, you could use sliced onions or quartered shallots. You could also use chopped carrots, if alliums aren't your thing.

Leftovers will keep refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat in a skillet on the stove, skin side down, to re-crisp the skin, if desired.

  photo  Roasted Chicken Thighs With Leeks and Lemons creates its own sauce as it cooks. (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)  Roasted Chicken Thighs With Leeks and Lemons

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and sliced into ¾-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 large lemon, sliced into thin rounds, seeds picked out
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (1 ½ pounds total)
  • Fine salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • Crusty bread, for serving

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425 degrees.

Pour the oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, add the leeks and lemon; gently toss to coat.

Pat the thighs dry and lightly season both sides with salt and pepper. Gently loosen the skin to let a little air in — this will help it get crispy as it roasts. Place the chicken thighs, skin-side up and evenly spaced, atop the leeks and lemons.

Roast for 35 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a thigh registers 160 to 165 degrees. Let rest for at least 5 minutes; then serve with crusty bread.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.


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