Chicken thighs, lemon, thyme and rosemary mingle nicely with company

Serve chicken thighs with lemon and herbs for unexpected dinner guests. (J. Kyle Keener/Detroit...

Story by Susan M. Selasky
(Detroit Free Press/MCT)
Sun, Jun 3, 2012
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Readers often call me, looking for ideas to feed a crowd or unexpected guests.

One of my standards is Chicken With Lemon and Herbs. I came across the recipe years ago in Fine Cooking magazine. I’ve tweaked it here and there, using different herbs, chicken breasts instead of thighs, and red or sweet onions in place of shallots.

I like it because it’s super easy. Take chicken thighs, brine them if you like and bake with lemon and herbs. That’s it. It’s a great main dish if you’re hosting a bridal or baby shower, or for just about any other occasion. Add a mixed vegetable and salad, and it’s a complete meal.

This dish also is relatively inexpensive to make for a crowd. For quick cooking, remove the bones. Allow extra baking time if you leave the bones in.

Also, leave the skin on the chicken. It makes the meat more flavorful, and it gives your guests the option of removing it or not.

Beyond the ease of making it, this dish has great flavor. You can’t go wrong with lemons and fresh herbs — they’re a natural match. Today’s recipe calls for thyme and rosemary, but you can use other herbs, such as parsley or basil. If using rosemary, don’t worry that it will be too strong. It won’t be. And roasting the lemons mellows out the tartness.

When it comes to buying lemons, I usually go for a whole bag because it’s cost-effective. A bag generally has at least six lemons and costs about $3. Sold separately, lemons can cost 70 cents each.

Choose lemons with bright skins and no hint of green, a sign of under-ripeness. The lemons should feel heavy for their size. They will keep in the refrigerator for two to three weeks in a plastic bag. If left out at room temperature, they’ll last about a week.

If I have leftover lemons, I zest and juice them. I freeze the zest in plastic bags and the juice in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out the cubes and put them in a plastic bag. You can also simply freeze lemon slices on a tray and place the frozen slices in a bag. They are terrific on the grill or roasted in the oven.

At some stores, you might see a variety called Meyer lemon. These have a thinner, smoother rind than a traditional lemon and are lower in acid. Their sweet flavor is often described as tangerine-like. They also tend not to have a lot of seeds.

CHICKEN WITH LEMON AND HERBS

For brine (optional):

  • 2 gallons water
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt, plus additional for rub for chicken
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 24 boneless chicken thighs or small chicken breast, with skin

For chicken:

  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced, with a large pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 large lemons, each cut into six 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1 small bunch fresh rosemary, cut into 24 two-inch pieces
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme, cut into 24 two-inch pieces
  • Shallots, cut into 1/4-inch slices (for each lemon slice)
  • Italian seasoning to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For sauce:

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup sherry

If desired, make a brine by mixing water with salt and sugar, stirring to dissolve. Place chicken in brine and refrigerate at least 3 hours. Remove chicken and rinse very well under cold water.

If not brining, begin by mashing the garlic in a small bowl with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt to create a coarse paste. Add olive oil slowly in drops while pounding and grinding the paste, continuing until the mixture is thick, creamy and emulsified. Put chicken in a bowl. Rub the garlic mixture all over the chicken, including under the skin. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On the bottoms of two shallow roasting pans or a baking sheet with sides, arrange lemon slices in one layer. Top each slice with a piece of rosemary, thyme and shallot slice. Set chicken breasts or thighs — skin side up — on lemon slices and sprinkle them generously with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Bake until the skin is golden and juices are clear, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Transfer chicken, with herbs, shallots and lemon slices underneath, to a plate. Cover loosely with foil. To make the pan sauce, tilt the pans to pool the juices in one corner. Spoon off the fat that rises to the top. Set the pans over medium heat; if the pan isn’t flameproof, pour the juices into a small skillet. Add 1 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup sherry (or wine or more broth) to the pans. Warm over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Boil the liquid until it is reduced to a sauce consistency. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the sauce around, not on, the chicken so the skin stays crisp.

Makes: 24 pieces.

Nutrition information per thigh: 189 calories (58 percent from fat), 12 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat), 4 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 175 milligrams sodium, 58 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

— Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, September 2001

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