Canada’s own Monda Rosenberg retired as Food Editor of CHATELAINE, Canada’s largest circulation magazine, in 2009. She was responsible for the magazine’s entire award-winning Food section, including writing and recipe development of over 2,000 recipes a year and overseeing food photography. Before joining CHATELAINE, Monda Rosenberg was Food Editor of the Toronto Star for five years.
Monda has received an impressive number of food writing, styling and publishing awards including the Nabisco Food Writer’s Magazine Food Editor of the Year Award, the New York Art Directors Award for Food Styling and the General Foods Nutrition Writing Award. She has been president of the Ontario Home Economics Association and president of the Toronto Home Economics Association for a double term.
A frequent guest on national television and radio shows, Monda is the author of The New Chatelaine Cookbook, two Vitality Cookbooks, the Quickies series of 7 cookbooks and Chatelaine’s Wonder Foods.
Plump pink thighs are a true joy in the culinary world (and I'm not talking about the cook's legs). Knowing there's a package of chicken thighs in the meat keeper is almost as good as knowing dinners ready to go - since I can get them on the table with very little work.
I've been developing a crush on this cut since it became the stuff of super sales and easy-to-find packages of various sizes in almost every supermarket. I confess that I'd been a white meat gal most of my life, but the bonus flavour, ease of cooking and cost savings won me over. Growing up, the only decision to make when entertaining was to roast a whole bird or cook breasts. These days smart cooks use full-flavoured thighs in the classiest of dishes, letting it sub for milder tasting chicken breasts or the task of cutting up a whole bird for a coq au vin, Indian butter chicken, curry or even chicken cordon bleu.
I usually reach for the skinless boneless packages unless I'm making something that will slowly simmer or braise away and I want to capitalize on the flavour in the bones. Meat on the bone infuses more taste into the sauce and into the chicken meat. Most of the time, I remove the skin before cooking no matter what cut I buy. Partly to cut back on fat and calories but also because I don't like that flabby skin thing that can happen unless you are roasting or frying the thighs. Experts have been telling me for years that chicken cooked with the skin on and then removed has no more calories than if you remove the skin before you roast it.
The advantage of leaving it on of course is that it protects the surface from drying out and getting all wrinkly and hard. Despite their testing I have never completely bought this one BECAUSE IT MAKES SUCH A WHOPPING DIFFERENCE IN THE BEAUTY, TEXTURE AND MOISTNESS OF THE THIGH WHEN I LEAVE THE SKIN ON. But if I am going to roast and have skin-on thighs, I do leave it in place ALSO to get that sensation of opening up the oven door and seeing the glorious juices running down all that golden, crispy skin. Then I strip my skin off at the dinner table (it’s the only stripping allowed in our dining room) and give it to my husband to eat.
The nutritional goods on thighs is that a 100 g portion (ABOUT 3 OZ ) of thigh meat without the skin has 166 calories and 6.88 grams of fat. Leave the skin on and those figures rise to 244 calories and 17.59 grams of fat. I would rather spend those extra calories on the pure "meat".
There is an ongoing debate in our house about whether it's worth shelling out the money for the already skinned and boned thighs or to buy the thighs with the bone-in and skin-on and do the stripping and boning ourselves. I have always felt that no matter what you buy, each thigh costs around $1. The decision of which to grab in the grocery store comes down to the specials that might be on and how rushed I think I am going to be when I use them. Then there is the question - how much is my time worth? Remember the skin on thighs can be very THICK so it doesn't work to simply compare the prices of skinless boneless to the same weight of skin-on bone-in.
In a very unscientific test; I purchased bone-in, skin-on thighs for $5.49 a kilogram. The eight skin-on bone-in thighs weighed 1274 g and cost $6.99 (that works out to about 87 cents a thigh). I removed the skin and bones. Together the skin and bones weighed 405 g. That left 869 g of actual meat. Thus I paid $6.99 for 867 grams of chicken meat. That means that the meat cost $8.04 per kilogram (sorry about all these figures).
I spent about five minutes removing the skin and another 10 minutes removing bones (what can I say, Speedy Gonzales I am not).
Skinned and boned thighs were selling that day at $14.55 a kilogram. At this price the 869 grams of pure "meat" that I ended up with would have cost me $12.66. The bottom line is that I saved $4.62 by doing it myself. Every minute I worked I saved 31 cents or $18.60 an hour. So is my time worth more than $18 an hour - especially when I am tired and hungry? Of course you might be much faster at this task than I.
SAVINGS DOWN THE ROAD
Stock up when thighs are on special. Freeze so it will eventually be easy to remove them individually. Put a few thighs in a large self-sealing bag and place the bag on a baking sheet. With your hand on the top of the bag, move the thighs around so there is space between them. Seal and freeze. Once firm, remove the baking sheet and the thighs will remain beautifully separated so it's a snap to take out a few at a time.
SKIN AND BONES
Fortunately there is no big challenge in boning and skinning thighs. It is not difficult, but it takes time - some pieces more than others. To skin, insert the point of a small knife between the edge of the skin and the meat or use your finger tip to loosen the two. Grab the skin and gently pull back a little. Then take a piece of paper towel and place over the pulled back part of skin. Grab the paper towel covered skin firmly. Steadily pull away the skin in one piece.
Boning a thigh is not a snap but considerably easier than boning a breast because there is just one central straight bone to take out. Slap the thighs, skin-side down, on a cutting board and spread them out as best you can. You will see the enlarged tip of one thick bone. It will have a cut off side. Using a sharp knife, make a cut lengthwise through to the middle of that bone. Now grab the large end of the bone and while gently pulling it up, scrape all the flesh from the bone. If you make your own broth, pop the bone in a bag to freeze until you have time to simmer up a broth. Flatten the thigh and cut away any excess fat.
When I don't have time to thaw and want chicken pieces or strips for a soup, pasta sauce or stir-fry, I take out the number of thighs I need and defrost in the microwave or in a sealed plastic bag in a sink of cold water. But I defrost only to the point of being able to easily saw through the meat. After slicing, I throw them into the bubbling soup or sauce and let then simmer away.
GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN
The direction you cut the chicken matters. Muscle fibres stretch lengthwise in the thigh running the length of the bone. When heated they shrink. To avoid tough chicken, slice the raw chicken across these fibres (aka, the grain). Then as they cook up, they'll only shrink the short thickness of the cut and not curl up.
THIGHS MANY WAYS
Thighs are the superstars of the poultry counter because they can stand in for so many other cuts of chicken and you never have to sacrifice flavour for speed.
Here are a few of my favourite ways to gussy them up.
CHIC (HOTTIES) ROLL-UPS - Remove bones from skin-on bone-in thighs. Place meat side up, on a plate or cutting board. Place a small amount (about a rounded teaspoon) of soft chevre cheese in the centre. Spread out so it covers about a third of the thigh. Scatter with a few strips of pickled hot red peppers (you buy them in a jar at the supermarket and they are terrific on hot sausages). Roll up the chicken trying to keep all the cheese encased. Stretch the skin so it covers as much of the skin as it can. Place seam side down on an oiled piece of foil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with ground cumin. Roast at 375 F (190 C) until golden, 30 to 35 minutes.
DECADENT COMFORT SAUCE - Heat a jar of Alfredo pasta sauce in a large frying pan. Add cut-up pieces of skinless boneless thighs. Stir often while simmering away for about 10 minutes. (Meanwhile get the pasta boiling.) Then add a few handfuls of sliced mushrooms and frozen peas. Season with tarragon or poultry seasonings and eventually toss with fettuccine.
NO STRESS MEXICAN BAKE - Place the skinless thighs (bone-in or out) in a baking dish, spreading them out as best you can. Spoon salsa sauce over top. Scatter with grated cheese or just lay thin slices over top. Bake, uncovered, at 375 F (190 C) 30 to 40 minutes.
CRUNCHY-CREAMY BAKE - Dip or brush skinless boneless thighs with your favourite, flavourful salad dressing. Creamy Caesar, blue cheese and Greek with feta are the usual ones I reach for. Then shake in a bag filled with dry bread crumbs, crushed croutons or taco chips. Place on a rack on a baking sheet and roast at 375 F (190F) about 25 to 35 minutes depending on their size. Why not bake frozen French fries or big pieces of potato wedges at the same time?
Note from Chicken Farmers of Canada: While we can understand Monda’s skepticism, our research has always shown cooking with the skin on and removing it prior to consumption does not increase the calorie count. Remember though, that chicken skin does have its own nutritional properties, too. Either way – Monda’s chicken ideas are delicious!