Crispity Chicken Thighs with Spicy Cilantro-Mint Pesto (Paleo/AIP/Whole30)
This recipe is your new go-to chicken – with a bombtastic sauce – but this post is really about the plate.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited my aunt Mary and uncle Bruce at their home on Green Lake, in Spicer, Minnesota. My dad and stepmom Susanna were there too, and the five of us went out for dinner the night that I arrived. Historically, there haven’t been many terrific places to eat in Spicer, but there’s a new spot in nearby New London, called Model Citizen, that everyone has been raving about. (Note: Absolutely worth the raves. We had an incredible meal.)
The dishes at Model Citizen are served family-style, on antique-store-find plates, and my aunt Mary mentioned that occasionally they’ve been served a dish on a Franciscan ware plate in Grandma Meyer’s pattern. That kicked off reminiscing – as we do – about the plates, where they came from, the matching glassware, and all the great meals we enjoyed on those plates.
(I reminisce about my grandparents a lot. I suppose most of us do, if we were lucky enough to have grandparents who really enjoyed children. And if we were REALLY lucky enough to have grandparents who made delicious food. One of my favorite summer sounds is the cooing of mourning doves, which reminds me so intensely of Clara City – where my grandparents lived – and brings back memories of waking up too early and sneaking downstairs because I loved to hang out in the kitchen alone with my grandparents before anyone else got up. Also: first dibs on bacon, my grandfather’s decadent version of Cream of Wheat, and blueberry muffins.)
While we were chatting, one of the dishes was served…on Grandma’s plate pattern! I was ridiculously excited, snapped a picture of the dish, and posted it in my Instagram story.
And then something amazing happened. A woman named Rosie, whom I’ve corresponded with several times on Instagram, sent me a private note saying that she has one of those plates and that she’d love to send it to me.
I was beyond thrilled! I mean seriously, I was so touched. I have a few things of my grandmother’s, all of which I cherish and use, but I don’t have any of her dishes.
The plate arrived a couple of days ago – hooray! – so yesterday I plotted what to serve on it and share with you. I considered fried walleye (a Grandpa-Grandma Meyer classic collaboration), but I’ve posted that recipe before.
Then I decided that a simplified version of fried chicken with mashed potatoes would be the perfect combination of comfort food, just tweaked to be made healthier and doable on a weeknight. (My grandparents had a screen porch and would set up an electric frying pan on it for frying walleye and chicken in the summertime. I don’t think my grandma made mashed potatoes during the summer – she made potato salad – but either way you have to boil potatoes and this version of mashed potatoes is too good to pass up.)
These crispity chicken thighs are actually a Project Vibrancy Meals fave, and so is the cilantro pesto, although I added mint to this version because I’m basically obsessed with mint right now. I think you’ll enjoy the addition.
You know what I’m going to say…make a big batch so that you can enjoy a few delicious meals from your efforts. The leftover chicken is terrific on salads and the cilantro-mint pesto can be a salad dressing, of course. Or add both chicken and pesto to Healing Green Broth – along with spring vegetables – and make a lovely soup. On and on. #batchboss
In fact, having a condiment ready-to-go is such a proven way to start creating fast, healthy meals from the ingredients you typically keep on hand – without getting so bored you close the fridge door and order online instead. If you’re tired of your usual moves, bust out some new ones with Kickass Condiments: 20+ Little Recipes That Change Everything. It’s a beautiful but inexpensive PDF/ebook with addictive sauces and dressings that jazz up basically anything, plus tons of tips and suggestions for fast meals. When you can’t think of what to make, open it up and you’ll get ideas right away, I promise.
Huge thanks to the lovely Rosie, for so generously giving me a plateful of delicious memories that I can hold in my hands. Objects have the power to stir up memories in a way we can’t quite conjure if left to just our thoughts. And now being gifted this plate, through the internet, is part of the of story and the memories.
If you eat this chicken on a screen porch, PLEASE let me know. 💚
Bit of a side note – but not really – I recorded this video today giving my top tips for getting a good night’s sleep. You might not have heard some of these before – on the list is eliminating foods that are causing reactions/inflammation – so definitely have a listen. If you’re not on Facebook, you can watch here on YouTube.
NOTES: In the pictures, I’ve plated the chicken with Raw Tuscan Kale Salad. For the mashed potatoes, I suggest stirring a few tablespoons of the pesto into your favorite mashed potato (or sweet potato or mashed cauliflower) recipe. Reserve the bones you trim away from the chicken thighs for making rich chicken broth (freeze them).
Crispity Chicken Thighs
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 tablespoon avocado oil
Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, carefully remove bones from chicken thighs, leaving skin intact. (Reserve bones per above note.)
Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season both sides generously with salt.
Set a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat and add oil to the pan. When oil is hot, add 4 of the chicken thighs, skin-side-down, to the pan. Fry chicken thighs, without turning, until deeply golden brown and crisp, 10-15 minutes. Don’t rush the process – if thighs are spattering a lot and frying fast, turn heat down a bit. You want them to be sizzling and slowly browning, not flash-frying. (At the halfway mark, I rotate the thighs horizontally, in the pan, without flipping them, so that the outer edges are moved to the center and the thighs brown evenly.)
Flip thighs and finish cooking through, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let them rest while you repeat the process with the remaining thighs. Transfer those thighs to a cutting board as well and let rest for 5 minutes.
Slice thighs into 3/4-inch pieces and serve topped with Spicy Cilantro-Mint Pesto.
Spicy Cilantro-Mint Pesto
Makes about 1 cup
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
2 scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced jalapeño or serano chile (start with less if you’re sensitive to heat – you can always add more later; substitute minced fresh ginger for AIP)
1/4 cup toasted pepitas (skip for AIP)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (skip for AIP/Whole30/Dairy Free)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil (or 1/3 cup for AIP, since you’re adding fewer solid ingredients)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
Several grinds of fresh black pepper (skip for AIP)
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse-process until pesto is a chunky puree. Taste and add more salt (and heat) if needed.
Transfer to a glass container. To store, press a piece of plastic wrap onto the pesto and cover with an airtight lid. Refrigerate.