Crispy, golden chicken thighs without a drop of oil
THE WASHINGTON POST – I love crisp fried chicken, but not the mess that goes into making it. Cookbook author Nagi Maehashi feels the same way. When I saw her recipe for ‘crazy crispy no-oil chicken’, I thought it sounded promising, but I didn't expect it to wow me the way it did. It seemed too simple for that: skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, salt and pepper cooked in a nonstick skillet. That's it.
It's the technique that turns a simple piece of poultry into a dish I now crave. You place the chicken skin side down in the skillet, cover it and cook it, undisturbed, for 10 minutes. Then you uncover the pan and cook it for 20 more minutes until the skin is crackling crisp and golden. You flip the chicken over to give the other side a sear. And you’re done.
"It's something I learned through Japanese cooking," Maehashi said of the technique, which allows the chicken to cook in its own fat. She finds it not only tastier, but thrifty, too, because no oils are required.
In her debut cookbook, RecipeTin Eats Dinner, which grew from her popular RecipeTin Eats site, she explained her goal this way: "I want to show you how to make vibrant recipes made with everyday ingredients, spanning cuisines from around the world as well as classic comforts. Delicious recipes with the ‘wow’ factor that are simple to make, cost effective and can often be prepared ahead."
She launched her website in 2014. She now has more than 4.6 million followers. In 2021, she started RecipeTin Meals, which makes more than 100,000 fresh meals a year for the poor, in Sydney. The meals are delivered through an organisation called One Meal.
"I always hoped I could do some kind of charity, just involved with a not-for-profit, but I never expected to be in a position to do what I am able to do. My work supports my food bank, and I hope to do that forever."
She takes pride in those meals being nutritious and freshly made, and wants people to realise it can be easy to cook that way at home, making your own sauces, for example, rather than buying ones filled with salt, sugar and preservatives.
Maehashi grew up eating delicious food at home in Japan, but she doesn't have heartwarming stories of standing at her mother's elbow in the kitchen. "I didn't help in the kitchen," she said. "I didn't even do the dishes."
At 18, however, she left home for a job in Australia and reality set in.
"It was a shock to the system that there wasn't a delicious hot meal on the table every night," said Maehashi, who worked in corporate finance.
"I taught myself how to cook, found I enjoyed it and started throwing dinner parties. Even if I had a really long day at work, I’d get home at nine o’clock and make dinner."
Now that it's her full-time job, she still loves it just as much. "I can cook and shoot all day.
Give all the food I cooked at work away and come home and start cooking. That's my downtime."
That doesn't mean she is spending a lot on food, nor does it mean making multiple trips to the grocery store and stocking up on expensive pantry items. She recommends building a pantry with a dozen or so staple spices and condiments as well as mastering a few basic sauces.
Cooking from scratch doesn't mean starting from scratch each time. She cites the classic Chinese brown sauce as an example: "With a dash of this or that, it can become an orange sauce or a ginger-garlic sauce… The end result looks so different and takes so different."
The same is true of Italian comfort foods. She takes a basic marinara, and with a little tweak – fresh basil, parmesan or something to add a little heat – it takes on a fresh flavour.
In her cookbook, which features recipes from around the world, she cross-references ingredients, so that when home cooks end up with a leftover food, they have a recipe that allows them to use it up.
Each recipe includes a QR code that takes you to one of the 132 videos she shot specifically for the cookbook. A quick video can show in a few seconds what it takes 100 words to explain, she said.
She also prides herself on writing recipes that anticipate questions, a skill the comment section on her website helped her develop.
Then why a bound, paper cookbook when the online interaction of video and comments is so useful?
"I really struggled with the idea of whether I should put all of the effort into making the cookbook," she said, adding that in the end, it was a somewhat sentimental decision.
"I liked the idea of having a physical thing that could be there in the kitchen and gifted," she said.
While she may not have learned cooking techniques from her mother, she remains inspired by her.
"Even though my mother worked full time, we dined like royalty because she was so creative in the kitchen. And this is why I know it's possible to make great, fresh food even if you’re short on time and on a budget."
CRAZY CRISPY NO-OIL CHICKEN
Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are Maehashi's favourite cut of chicken, and this simple, stovetop preparation is her favourite way to cook them because it creates a super-crisp skin. Maehashi likes to eat it with just a sprinkling of salt, but she offers a brown gravy recipe, too. A nonstick pan is best. If you use a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, Maehashi recommends adjusting the heat as needed because cast iron retain heat better and gets quite hot.
Active time: 15 minutes. Total time: 45 minutes.
Storage note: Refrigerate for up to four days.
Notes: Make your favourite sauce for this chicken or try Maehashi's brown gravy, which can be ready in about five minutes.
Make ahead: For even crisper skin, place the salted chicken on a plate, skin side up, and refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of six and up to 24 hours before searing. After chilling, do not pat the chicken dry because then you lose the salt. Proceed with the recipe as directed.
– Four (eight-ounce) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
– Heaping one-quarter teaspoon fine salt
– One-half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
Pat the chicken dry. Turn it to the flesh side and make a slash on either side of the bone and another in the thickest part of the meat, going halfway down into the flesh. Your goal is to create even thickness.
Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly on each side of the chicken.
In a cold, large, nonstick skillet with a lid, place the chicken, skin side down. Set the skillet over medium heat, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. The chicken juices and fat will render into the pan.
Uncover, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the chicken without moving for another 20 minutes, peeking under the chicken after 10 minutes.
If the pan is still looking watery, or if the chicken is browning too fast, adjust the heat accordingly.
After 20 minutes, the liquid should evaporate, leaving only the chicken fat in which the skin will fry and crisp; and the flesh side should be fairly opaque.
Flip the chicken and cook the flesh side until cooked through and a thermometer registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit when inserted into the thickest part of the meat away from the bone, about two minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a plate and let rest, uncovered, for three minutes.
Eat the chicken plain, with a sprinkle of flaky salt, if desired; or serve it with the pan drippings, a favourite sauce, or brown gravy.
To make brown gravy: Prepare the meat as directed. While it is resting, check to see that there are no burned patches in the pan. If there are, carefully wipe the pan clean.
If not, set the pan and its juices over medium heat and melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter. Add three tablespoons of all-purpose flour and cook, stirring until well combined and lightly browned.
Slowly pour in one cup of low-sodium beef broth, stirring constantly. The gravy will thicken quickly. Once the flour mixture is incorporated into the liquid, stir in a second cup of broth.
If you see lumps, use a wooden spoon or a rubber-coated whisk to dissolve them. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, as needed.
Simmer, stirring regularly, until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency, one to two minutes. You should get about two cups.
To make gluten-free gravy, omit the flour. Whisk together one-and-a-half tablespoons of cornstarch with a splash of the beef broth in a bowl until smooth.
Add the remaining beef broth and the slurry to the pan, whisking constantly, and simmer as directed.CRAZY CRISPY NO-OIL CHICKEN Four servings INGREDIENTS DIRECTIONS