Can chicken breasts be made into something delicious? Sure. You can flatten them, sear them, and stuff them into submission, but why go through all that work when a thigh is much more delicious with much less manipulation?
It’s a cold, hard truth that people who prefer chicken breasts to thighs are less sensual. Like the plastic-wrapped styrofoam packaging you’ll find them in, boneless, skinless, joyless chicken breasts take the primal pleasure out of eating.
The things that remind us that the meat came from a living, breathing animal — bones, skin, fat, collagen — are the very things that make the thigh so damn delicious, and the visceral nature of eating it should be embraced.
The only apparent advantage to the breast is its stuff-ability. Once flattened, it wraps around fillings with ease, forming a neat little parcel very much in line with the bland chicken breast aesthetic.
But thighs can also be stuffed — no kitchen twine required. Rather than folding or rolling the meat around the filling, we employ one of the thigh’s natural gifts, and form a little pocket between meat and skin, perfect for holding a variety of treasures.
The skin holds roasted vegetables, fresh herbs, or slices of prosciutto close to the meat, infusing it with flavour. Things can get a little more complicated with cheese, as it is prone to oozing, but a little planning on your part can help keep it in place.
Because I am a child of the 90s, fresh goat cheese speaks to me here. I like to mix it with herbs and garlic—or sun-dried tomatoes if I’m feeling truly nostalgic — then take about a tablespoon and a half of the mixture, roll it into a ball, and gently place it in the centre of thigh, under the skin, taking care to not flatten the ball of cheese.
The ball will slowly melt, gradually making its way to the edges, rather than spilling out into the pan. (Some cheese spillage is inevitable, particularly with smaller thighs, but use that to your advantage and brush any errant cheese on top of the thigh to form a flavorful crust.)
There are many ways you can stuff a thigh, but a garlicky, herby goat cheese is a good place to start. Feel free to mix vegetables or cured meats into the mixture; mushrooms and prosciutto would be most welcome.
Garlic and herb goatcheese-stuffed chicken thighs
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 100 grams chèvre
- 6 cloves garlic
- 6 sprigs of your favourite herbs (I used thyme, oregano, and tarragon)
- Pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 190C. Salt both sides of each thigh with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, taking care to fold back any skin to get to the meat on the bottom.
Melt the butter in a stainless steel or cast iron pan over medium-low heat, roughly mince the garlic and herbs, then cook until the herbs are fragrant and the garlic is golden. Pulse the cheese, herbs, and garlic together in a food processor.
Divide the cheese into four portions, and don’t worry if they aren’t exactly equal, as some thighs are bigger than others, and those thighs should get a little more cheese. Gently separate the skin from the meat, starting at the highest edge of the thigh, leaving the skin connected as best as you can at the other edges.
Roll each portion of cheese into a ball, then poke it under the skin, placing it in the centre of the thigh. Season the top with pepper to taste, nestle the thighs in the pan you cooked the herbs and garlic in, skin-side up, and pop it in the oven until an instant read thermometer reads 70C in the thickest part of the thigh (about 45 minutes).
While the chicken is cooking, check on it every 15 minutes or so, and brush the skin with rendered fat and any errant cheese for a gloriously crisp, browned skin.
This article has been updated since its original publication.