I didn’t mean to bury the lede on you all, but that mango slaw was a side dish. I know! What has the smitten kitchen come to? I made, like, a meal, with a side dish and a main course, all while someone yanked on my flip-flops. I barely know what came over me. I do know that my timing was terrible, because I made this last Tuesday. “Wow, Deb, that’s great! Fascinating. Really.” No, Tuesday. In New York City. It was 102 degrees, the hottest day since August 2001 and I decided, at once, that I had to make a very specific dinner that would require me to turn the oven up very high for a sizable amount of time. I think that sleep deprivation has scrambled what’s left of my brain because I’d like to think I wasn’t this dimwitted 10 months ago. (Don’t tell me otherwise.)
And then I burned dinner. Like, it’s not bad enough that I turned on the oven, that I turned it up high and that I had it on for 30 minutes. I didn’t cover the dish and the sauce was charred black and what, you expect me to think of these things ahead of time? But despite all of this, this might be the best chicken I have ever made. Was I ever glad I’d let this recipe sneak up on me, take residence in my brain and nudge-nudge me to even get over my issues with fish sauce [“It’s fishy!” “It’s not fishy, Deb.” “People who like fish always say that things are not fishy but they always are.” –1 day later — “Wow, this is not only not fishy, it might be the best tasting thing on earth. I will put it on everything, henceforth.” Fin.] because this is perfection.
Likely even more so if you have a grill… you know, so you don’t have to heat up your kitchen during a heatwave? That sounds like something smart people would do. This recipe was intended for a grill but lacking in one and itching to try it, I roasted it in the oven. I like cooking chicken on high heat; I was converted to this method thanks to Zuni, and haven’t looked back since. The chicken gets cooked but not dry, the skin crisps. All of these things happened, but the sugars in the sauce caused it to burn. The next night I made the chicken again, and this time covered the dish. The sauce still blackened, though not as much because I sprinkled a couple tablespoons of water. I realize this doesn’t give you a very solid cooking technique to draw from; I realize that this recipe may benefit from a another round but I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t want to keep you from having this for dinner in the next 24 hours because I honestly don’t think you’ll care how “caramelized” (ha) the sauce might get in the oven, the chicken more than makes up for it.
Thai-Style Chicken Legs
Barely tweaked (to add instructions, offer alternative ingredients) from Food & Wine
I warn you, if you serve this with mango slaw, a quick addiction may form.
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley if you are cilantro-averse)
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce*
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (I accidentally doubled this and can only advise you do the same)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
8 whole chicken legs, split, or 8 drumsticks and 8 thighs (about 5 pounds total)
Thai sweet chili sauce, for serving
Combine the garlic, cilantro, fish sauce, vegetable oil, hoisin sauce, coriander, kosher salt and pepper in a blender until smooth. Arrange the pieces of chicken in a large, shallow glass or ceramic dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn to coat the pieces thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.
To roast the chicken: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cover baking dish with a lid or foil and roast chicken for about 25 minutes. If the sauce begins to char, sprinkle a few tablespoons water into the dish. Remove the lid or foil and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the skin is crisp and the meat is cooked through.**
To grill the chicken: [Lacking a grill, I did not test this method but I will be happy to if you invite me over tonight, okay?] Light a grill. If using a gas grill, turn off the center burners; if using a charcoal grill, once the coals are covered with a light ash, push them to opposite sides, forming a well in the middle. Set a disposable drip pan in the center. Cook chicken on the hot grate above, skin side down, with the cover down for about 40 minutes. The skin should be crisp and the meat should be cooked through.**
Both methods: Once cooked, transfer to plates and serve with Thai chili sauce.
Do ahead: The marinade can be refrigerated overnight. I like it so much, I am tempted to make a larger batch of it to keep in the freezer until needed.
* Don’t like fish sauce? Don’t want to eat it? Neither did I before about five minutes ago. Anyway, I often see low-sodium soy sauce suggested as an alternative but I’m not convinced it’s a fair swap. There’s something more caramelized and fermented in the fish sauce that you’d miss. If you feel like playing around, I might whisk some additional hoisin or even miso into that soy sauce for a more complex flavor.
** To ensure your chicken is “cooked through”: Lacking x-ray vision and decades of chicken-cooking practice, I’m a big fan of using a thermometer to ensure that my meat is properly cooked. A thermometer inserted into the thigh/leg joint should register 180 to 185 degrees if you’re following Proper Chicken Cooking Protocol, or 170 to 175 degrees, if you’re me, and have very specific chicken-cooking preferences despite what food safety experts advise. I like to live on the edge, obviously. Another classic, though less precise way, to see if chicken is cooked through is to pierce it with a knife. If the juices that run out are clear, your chicken should be just right.