We might have once argued over the breast meat at the Sunday roast, but these days we’re more likely to clash forks over juicier, more flavoursome thighs. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, thighs are more amenable to different cooking methods and – at around half the price of breasts – they’re the more wallet-friendly option, costing about $8.50 a kilo at supermarkets.
To lock in moisture, always brine your chicken, says Will Tang of Melbourne’s Korr Jee Chicken. This is true of a whole bird or a single piece.
Tang’s basic recipe is one litre of water to 50 grams of salt, 30 grams of sugar, four bay leaves, four cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of black peppercorns. Leave your raw chicken in this brine in the fridge for up to four hours for the ultimate tender, juicy result.
Baked (with skin on)
Supermarkets, mystifyingly, usually remove both skin and bone, so hit up your butcher for anything requiring a slower cook.
“Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are perfect to cook in the oven as you’ll get wonderful crispy skin and juicy brown meat,” says Kemal Barut from Melbourne’s Lezzet Anatolian Kitchen.
He uses a rub of smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper and salt with a little oil, then cooks the thighs on a baking tray in the oven at 180C for around 20 to 25 minutes.
“If you’re unsure, use a cooking thermometer to ensure the inside temperature reaches between 73 to 75C. Once it’s cooked, rest for 10 minutes before serving.”
Spiced turmeric chicken bake: rich, crispy, fatty and silky all in one. Photograph: The Guardian. Food and prop styling: Aya Nishimura. Food assistant: Hanna Miller.
Tamal Ray makes a set-and-forget chicken thigh traybake with chickpeas in a harissa-spiked tomato sauce, while both legs and thighs go into Thomasina Miers’ baked chicken: a “richly spiced dish full of crisp, fatty chicken skin, silky onions and golden roast potatoes”.
Nigel Slater, meanwhile, uses his baked chicken thighs (skin on) as the base of a creamy, lemony pasta.
The secret to a good fried chicken is its marinade. MasterChef UK winner Thomas Frake uses a classic combination of buttermilk or yoghurt with spices such as paprika, cayenne pepper and oregano, then lets his tenderised thigh fillets marinade in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then he double-coats them in spiced flour and deep fries them.
Moreish perfection: Thomasina Miers’ chicken karaage tacos with sriracha mayo and radish salad. Photograph: Louise Hagger/Louise Hagger for the Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay
Nigella Lawson adds smoked paprika, dijon mustard and maple syrup to her marinade and serves her deep-fried thigh on a burger bun with iceberg lettuce and garlic mayo.
Thomasina Miers’ fried chicken comes bite-sized and karaage-style. It’s wrapped into tortillas with a sriracha-infused mayonnaise and crunchy radish salad.
If the thought of deep frying is a bit daunting and you’ve already succumbed to the temptation of a tiny benchtop oven, try Food and Wine’s air-fried take on a classic buttermilk fried chicken.
Grilled or barbecued
Barut prefers the speed of boneless thighs for grilling or barbecuing, but cautions not to cook them on too high a heat or you’ll risk losing juiciness. He also suggests cooking skin-side down to keep the juices contained.
“I like adding fresh thyme and lemon when grilling and brushing with honey and vinegar to add extra zest,” he says.
Thomasina Miers’ barbecued chicken – marinated in lemongrass and honey. Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian
Thomasina Miers uses Asian aromatics as the base of her marinade – leaving it overnight before barbecuing the chicken “until the juices run clear”.
Somer Sivrioglu chooses thighs for his Turkish-style barbecued skewers, marinated in yoghurt and herbs. “The fat is important for the taste,” he says.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Malaysian coconut chicken curry: ‘Not one bit authentic’ – though it is tasty.
Yottam Ottolenghi confesses his Malaysian curry, cooked with skinned, boneless thighs, is “not one bit authentic” – it has, for instance, the unusual addition of a couple of tablespoons of plum jam.
Time poor? Try Chetna Makan’s speedy one-pot dahi murg (yoghurt chicken curry), which forms a marinade and sauce all in one.
Or for more of a project-cook, borrow a dish from Spice Girl Mel B and try her take on a classic Caribbean recipe: chicken curry with rice and peas. While Jamaican curry powder can be a little bit challenging to find in Australia, it is readily available online and in some specialty stores.
For a very simple stir-fry, Tang recommends the “Chinese three-cup method”.
“It’s one cup of soy sauce, one cup of sugar and one cup of Shaoxing wine.” (The wine is about $3.50 from supermarkets.) Tang brines his chicken first, then pats it dry and cooks it to golden in the wok before adding vegetables of choice and the “three cup” liquid, which then reduces it a bit as it cooks.
Billy Law’s gong bao chicken: for those unafraid of heat. Photograph: Georgia Gold
Billy Law’s punchy gong bao (or kung pao) chicken doubles down on heat, with both chillies and tongue-tingling Sichuan pepper.
Meanwhile, chow mein may not be authentic, says Felicity Cloake, but this easy Chinese restaurant staple is a firm family favourite, and she says it is “infinitely more delicious hot from the wok than from a tepid takeaway box”.
In a casserole
Barut shares a recipe his mother used to make – “especially on the weekends for a Sunday dinner”.
“She was so busy and getting ready for the week ahead. So, it had to be quick and easy.”
Kemal Barut’s chicken casserole
50g vegetable oil
2 large brown onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tbsp sumac
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp smoked paprika
500g chicken thighs (skinless, boned)
500ml chicken stock
2 cinnamon sticks
Over medium heat, melt the butter and oil and add the chopped onions and garlic and cook until translucent, around five minutes. Sprinkle the onions with the spices and cook stirring, for about a minute, until fragrant.
Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and tuck them among the onions in the pot, searing to colour for one to two minutes per side.
Pour the chicken stock over, add cinnamon sticks and reduce to low heat, covering the pot.
Cook for 30 minutes. A delicious way to serve this dish is with saffron, pistachio and sultana-flavoured rice.