Actually, scratch that. I didn't make a special dinner for him last year. Just this outrageous mess of a cake. I think we went out for barbecue instead. Probably a smart move, given that cake. Yikes.
The year before that, I made a greatest hits menu of Dan's favorite foods: short ribs, chicken liver pate, chocolate-hazelnut cake. It took a lot of cajoling to get that list out of him, something I didn't want to repeat again this year. After asking oh, two...or five times, "Is there anything special you want for your birthday?" and getting no feedback, I gave up and decided to figure it out myself. I live with the guy, I know what he likes.
Namely: chicken thighs.
We eat chicken thighs all the time--they are cheap, delicious, and cook up fast on a busy week night. Usually I slather them with mustard and roast them in a cast iron skillet in the oven. Tasty, but not really birthday-worthy.
And then I thought of a long-ago bookmarked recipe for Suzanne Goin's devil's chicken thighs. (Which also reminded me to make Dan's other favorite food: deviled eggs.) The dish is similar to my slapdash-mustardy version, but much, much fancier. It involves three types of herbs, brown butter breadcrumbs, shallots, vermouth, and, yes, a Dijon mustard marinade. You serve the whole thing atop a pile of melted braised leeks.
I know, that sounds really fussy. Maybe this dish might be a little labor-intensive for your average weeknight, but for a special occasion--perhaps a party for your favorite person who happens to love chicken thighs and is very, very cute--this will fit the bill nicely.
Birthday dinner for Daniel
Smoked salmon and creme fraiche on puff pastry
Devil's chicken thighs with braised leeks
Devil's chicken thighs
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Sunday Suppers at Lucques. If you are going to make the braised leeks, I recommend doing them first. They can sit while you make the chicken and reheat very well.
(Makes 12 thighs, which serves six people)
12 chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
1 cup thinly sliced onion
3 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. thyme leaves
2 chiles de arbol, thinly sliced on the diagonal (I substituted 1 Tbsp. dried red pepper flakes)
2 fresh bay leaves, thinly sliced, or 2 dried leaves, crumbled
3/4 cup dry vermouth (or white wine)
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely diced shallots
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 tsp. chopped tarragon
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Braised leeks (recipe below)
Place the chicken thighs in a large bowl with the onion, 2 Tbsp. thyme, chiles, bay leaves, and 1/4 cup vermouth (or white wine). Using your hands, toss to coat the chicken well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons butter, and cook until it turns brown and smells nutty. Pour the melted browned butter over the breadcrumbs. Wait 1 minute, then add the parsley and 1 tablespoon thyme. Stir until combined. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Return the saute pan to medium heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining tablespoons butter, and when it foams, add the shallots and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme. Saute about 2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent. Add the remaining 1/2 cup vermouth (or white wine) and reduce by half. Transfer to a bowl and let the mixture cool for a few minutes. Whisk in the mustard, egg, tarragon, and a pinch of black pepper.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking, to bring it to room temperature. Discard the seasonings and any liquid in the bowl, and pat the chicken very dry with paper towels. Season the thighs well on both sides with salt and pepper.
Return the same saute pan to high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, and let it heat up until it shimmers, about 1 minute. Place the chicken thighs in the pan, skin side down, and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until the skin is a deep golden brown. Turn the thighs over and cook a minute or two on the other side.
Set the chicken thighs aside on a plate. Turn off the heat and discard the fat from the pan. Add the chicken stock to the pan, and use a wooden spoon to scape the crispy bits stuck to the bottom. Pour the chicken stock over the braised leeks.
Toss the chicken thighs in the bowl with the mustard mixture, slathering them completely, then arrange them over the braised leeks. Spoon any remaining mustard mixture over the chicken thighs. Top each thigh with breadcrumbs, packing them on with your hands to make sure they are generously coated.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through. The juices from the chicken will run clear when you prick the meat with a knife. Turn the oven up to 475 degrees and cook the chicken thighs another 10 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve in the baking dish, or transfer to a large warm platter.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Sunday Suppers at Lucques
(Serves 6 people)
(Serves 6 people)
6 large leeks1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sliced shallots
1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Strip away any bruised outer layers from the leeks. Trim off the roots. Trim the tops of the leeks on the diagonal, leaving 2 inches of the green part attached.
To clean the leeks, cut them in half lengthwise, and submerge them in a large bowl of cold water. Shake the leeks well to dislodge the dirt stuck inside, then let them soak in the water to let the dirt fall to the bottom of the bowl. Pour out the dirty water and repeat the process until the water is clean. Place the leeks, cut side down, on a towel and pat dry completely.
Turn the leeks over so their cut sides are facing up, and season with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grindings of black pepper.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, and wait 1 minute. Place the leeks in the pan, cut side down, being careful not to crowd them. (You may need to saute them in batches or in two pans. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed, for each batch.) Sear the leeks for 4 to 5 minutes, until they are golden brown. Season the backs of the leeks with salt and pepper, and turn them over to cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them to a large gratin dish, lining them up, cut sides facing up. (Make sure your baking dish will accommodate all the leeks and chicken thighs, or use two smaller dishes.)
Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots, thyme, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until the shallots are just beginning to color. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add 1 1/2 cups stock, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Pour the liquid over the leeks. The stock should not quite cover them; add more stock if necessary. Braise in the oven 30 minutes, until the leeks are tender when pierced.