Mark and I never fight – over which piece of chicken we get. He likes dark meat, and I like white meat. The problem is how to cook the meat so it is tender, taste and juicy. I find myself buying leg quarters, thighs or breasts packages when the grocery store runs specials on chicken. I can make more meals out of these packages than buying a single bird. Convenience! I will also cook up large portions at a time to eat and freeze the extras for later meals.
    By buying chicken pieces, I have learned I can prepare the meat the right way. I love learning about the science of cooking. One of my favorite go-to books is Cook’s Illustrated 2015 issue. I learned chicken thighs need to be overcooked to be fork tender. “Unlike white meat, which dries out and toughens when overcooked, dark meat actually benefits from being cooked well beyond done. That is because dark meat contains twice as much collagen as white meat and the longer the meat cooks, the more the collagen breaks down into gelatin, which coats the meat’s protein fibers and makes it more moist and tender. But it is also important to cook thighs low and slow so that they spend as much time as possible between 140 and 195 degrees… the temperature range in which collagen breaks down.”
    Here are a couple recipes I like to make. I’ve modified this first recipe to fit our family’s tastes and skill level. I backed off on a couple things they used and came up with this version. The best part is when I use my dutch oven for the next meal, the flavors and aromas of the cinnamon and tomatoes linger in my next dish. Perfect!

Spanish braised chicken thighs adapted from Cooks Illustrated 2015 Cookbook
8 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup dry sherry
1 cup chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped fine
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
    Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 300 degrees.
    Pat thighs dry with paper towels and season both sides of each with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add thighs and brown on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer thighs to large plate and pour off all but 2 tsp. fat from skillet.
    Return skillet to medium heat, add onion and 1/4 tsp. salt; cook, stirring frequently, until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add 2 tsp. garlic, bay leaf and cinnamon; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sherry and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tomatoes and bring to simmer. Return thighs to skillet, cover and transfer to oven. Cook until chicken registers 195 degrees, about 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer thighs to serving platter, remove and discard skin, and cover with tin foil to keep warm.
    Discard bay leaf. Transfer 3/4 cup chicken cooking liquid, remaining garlic and lemon juice to blender. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes. Return to skillet, add parsley, bring to simmer over medium heat. Simmer, whisking frequently, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over chicken.

Mahogany chicken thighs Cook’s Illustrated September/October 2014
1 1/2 cup water, divided
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
8 chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled, halved and smashed
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
    Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk 1 cup water, soy sauce, sherry, sugar, molasses and vinegar in oven-safe 12-inch skillet until sugar is dissolved. Arrange chicken, skin side down in mixture and nestle ginger and garlic between pieces of chicken.
    Bring soy mixture to simmer over medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and cook, uncovered for 30 minutes.
    Flip chicken skin side up and continue to cook, uncovered, until chicken registers 195 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to platter. Pour cooking liquid through fine mesh strainer into fat separator and let settle for 5 minutes. Turn oven to broil.
    Whisk cornstarch and remaining 1/2 cup water together in bowl. Pour 1 cup defatted cooking liquid into new empty skillet and bring to simmer over medium heat. Stir cornstarch mixture into cooking liquid and simmer until thickened, about 1 minute. Pour sauce into bowl and set aside.
    Return chicken skin side up to now empty skillet and broil until well browned, about 4 minutes. Return chicken to platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with sauce on the side.

    While we took our time to bake the chicken thighs low and slow, chicken breasts are on the opposite side of the spectrum. High heat and quickly to lock in juices is the best way to cook up this part of the chicken. I like simple seasonings of salt, pepper, garlic and paprika. You can also use taco seasonings or Italian seasonings as well to flavor the meat. Don’t skip the brine step if you use fresh meat. It really helps the meat stay moist while cooking.

Baked chicken breasts
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to even thickeness and brined in saltwater.
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
    To brine chicken breasts, fill a large bowl with 1 quart of warm water and 1/4 cup kosher salt. Stir to combine until most of salt is absorbed. Add chicken breasts and let sit for 15 minutes or cover bowl, refrigerate for up to six hours. Remove chicken breasts from brine, rinse with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. (If chicken breasts you purchased are pre-brined then skip this step.)
    Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
    Place chicken breasts in a single layer in a large baking dish or roasting pan. Brush melted butter on both sides of meat.
    In a separate small bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Sprinkle evenly over chicken on both sides.
    Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until chicken is cooked to 165 degrees. Remove pan from oven and tent with aluminum foil to let chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
    Serve warm. Refrigerate left overs in a sealed container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Chop into useable chicken chunks for soups and casseroles before freezing.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net