Each year my dear friends leave the slush, cold and gray of Homer in March and spend spring in beautiful Tuscany. My friend Bethany phones me frequently just as I am starting my day and she is winding hers down and making her family dinner. She tells me what culinary specialty she is preparing and I tell her what I made for our dinner the night before.
One of the great things about Italy is the food. She enjoys shopping at the meat shop of Mr. and Mrs. Moreno, a quaint little place where he hand cuts steaks and chops to your specifications, makes his own delicious sausages and everything is fresh. His beef, pork and foul come from local farmers. Off to one side of the market they sell a few staples and in the middle of store are cases of locally grown fresh produce. I love the small-town atmosphere and friendliness of the Morenos. His meat is just excellent and I miss his big, flavorful steaks. I visited Tuscany last year and fell in love with it.
It’s that time of year in Alaska when your freezer is still pretty full of last year’s catch and harvest, but you are thinking you really want to use it up and oh, something fresh would be really nice for a change. Every day I search the cookbook in my head and then cruise the web thinking of tasty ways to make dinner from defrosted seafood and meat. Bethany is over there in the land of shopping for dinner each day and preparing everything fresh. Time for me to make something different, I’m thinking, as we’ve had quite a bit of fish and moose lately.
Chicken was the winner and was even on-sale at the market. I searched for a delicious recipe and settled on one that is listed on the Food52 website. I found a recipe for crispy chicken thighs with crisp-tender asparagus, bacon and smash-fried potatoes.
While the pan-fried chicken and bacon bring richness to the potatoes, and the addition of mushrooms that I added not in the original recipe, the asparagus, garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard and wine keep the dish bright and springy. It all came together in about an hour. This one’s definitely a keeper as everyone liked it.
Crispy Chicken Thighs with Asparagus, Bacon, Potatoes and Mushrooms
Adapted from Food52
• 6 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 4 chicken thighs
• 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
• 1 pound golf ball–sized red potatoes
• 1 pound asparagus, fibrous ends trimmed
• 4 thick slices bacon, roughly chopped into ¾-inch pieces
• 1 cup sliced mushrooms
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1 pinch red pepper flakes
• 1 lemon, juiced
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• ½ cup dry white wine
1. Set a very large pot of water (about 6 quarts) over high heat to come to a boil. When it does, generously season it with salt (I estimate 1 tablespoon kosher salt per quart of water).
2. Add the olive oil to a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) and set over medium heat. Season the chicken thighs all over with salt and pepper. Add them to the skillet, skin side down. Cook like this, without moving, until the fat has rendered and the skin is deeply golden brown and crispy, 15 to 30 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed, reducing to medium-low if the skin begins to burn before it gets evenly brown.
3. When the salted water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook until knife-tender, about 10 minutes (start checking around 8 minutes to avoid overcooking). Use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the potatoes to a plate where they can cool.
4. Let the water return to a boil, then add the asparagus. Boil for about 2 minutes, or until almost tender. Drain.
5. When the chicken thighs are crispy and deeply golden-brown on the bottom, flip. Continue cooking until the other side is deeply golden brown and the meat closest to the bone is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes more.
6. When the potatoes are cool, use your palm, a glass, or a measuring cup to gently smush them. You want them as flat as possible, but not falling apart. When the asparagus is cool, chop the stalks into 1 ½-inch pieces.
7. When the chicken is done, transfer the thighs to a plate, but leave all the fat in the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high. Immediately add the smashed potatoes to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes per side, or until very crispy all over. Transfer the potatoes to a plate or platter.
8. Add the mushrooms to the pan and sauté until browned and remove from the pan.
9. Discard the fat and wipe the pan.
10. Set the pan back over medium heat. Add the bacon. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until just starting to crisp. Discard a couple spoons of rendered fat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and stir. Toast until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the asparagus, mushrooms and wine and stir. Cook for about 1 minute just to warm, then add the Dijon, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Nestle the chicken thighs back in the pan and gently simmer until chicken and sauce have had a chance to get acquainted.
11. Serve immediately with the smash-fried potatoes alongside.
Now it’s back to the freezer and searching for new tricks for last year’s frozen packages of meat and fish.