“Smothered” Chicken Thighs with Crispy Skin and Cheesy Buttermilk Biscuits

#RecipeUpTop (details below):


  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs;
  • 5 ribs of celery;
  • 3 yellow onions;
  • 3 carrots;
  • Salt (to taste);
  • Chopped parsley (optional garnish);
  • “Colby Cove” biscuits

Method: Remove the skin and bones from the chicken thighs, keeping the skin intact. Liberally salt the thighs, and rest in refrigerator for one (1) hour. Trim the skins into rectangles, reserving the trimmings for the stock pot. Salt the skins, and rest (stretched out) on a baking sheet in the refrigerator. Add the bones (but not the extra skin and fat), 3 ribs of celery, and 2 onions (halved, but with peel on) to a large skillet and roast at 500F for thirty (30) to forty-five (45) minutes. Remove to a stock pot or pressure cooker, add the carrots, and simmer for at least an hour, or until the stock has darkened and the veggies have softened to mush. Strain the stock.

Dice the remaining celery and onion, and sweat in the large skillet until softened. Boost heat to high, and add the chicken in a single layer, and do not move it. Once the liquid has cooked off, add stock to cover, stir and re-settle the chicken, and leave it alone until the liquid has again cooked down to nearly gone. Repeat the process with more stock as many times as desired, adjust for salt, and set aside.

Roast the chicken skins at 500F for thirty (30) -ish minutes, or until browned and crispy but not burned. Remove to paper towel for drainage for five (5) minutes.

Serve chicken with sauce over a buttermilk biscuit, topped with a crispy skin and garnished with parsley, if desired.

The Details

We don’t like superlatives here on the blog, and the internet is full of “Best Recipe Ever” content, but… well, we’re making an exception here. This is the single best chicken dish I’ve ever eaten. It’s a powerhouse of flavor, coaxed out of a scant few (very cheap) ingredients, and some basic techniques. It hits a glorious nexus between chicken gumbo, pot pie, and a “secret third thing” as the kids say. It does take a little time, but it’s mostly passive (like waiting for the stock to simmer), so it makes a great weekend meal while puttering around the house. It also yields a lot of food, and reheats well, so it’s a favorite for work-week lunches. Anyway, let’s cook.

Step One: Break down your thighs.

Chicken thigs are my champion for the best value in the grocery store. Specifically, the bone-in, skin-on variety. They’re delicious, almost as versatile as eggs, and practically free. I think this package of six (6) was less than five bucks. Why skin-on, bone-in? Well, they’re cheaper per-pound, and I want those skins and bones. You’ll see. You’ll see.

If you’ve not dealt with this process before, it’s dead-simple. The skins should pull off without the need of a knife:

Just like that. So, peel ’em all and set the skins aside for a minute. Next up is the boning, which is also super easy. Thighs only have one bone to worry about, and it’s pretty obvious. Take your time, use small cuts, and more pulling than slicing. If you need a visual, a quick youtube search will give you the idea.

Ta da! these don’t need to be perfect, since we’ll be chopping them into bite-sized morsels later, but it helps to keep them in once piece at the moment for ease of moving them around. Quick sprinkle of salt on both sides, and into the fridge:

You want these to rest for at least an hour, and they really can go up to four (4) before you need to think about covering them, but we actually want the exterior to be a little dry and springy. It’s all part of the plan.

As for the skins, trim them up into rectangles, reserving the extra for the stock we’ll be making shortly:

Salt these, and get them in the fridge on a wire rack in a baking sheet. The goal is to get them as dry as possible before we roast them, which will help them crisp up into crackers:

Step two: Make stock. Get your bones, three ribs of celery, and the onions in a wide skillet, and roast at 500F for half an hour, to forty-five (45) minutes, or until the bones are roasty-toasty, and the veg has some color:

This is the base for the stock, which we will ultimately wield like a mythical chicken-hero to deglaze our pan, and reduce to a pseudo demi-glace rich and complex sauce. But it all starts here.

Get the roasted bones and veg into a stock pot, cover with water, add your carrots, and simmer for at least an hour, but really longer is better. If you were, say, watching college football all day Saturday, and were able to get the chicken and skins in the fridge, and the stock simmering before the noon games, you’ll be rewarded ten-fold by dinner time.

Couple of points: First, like we discussed in our stock post, if you’re going for a long, open simmer, make sure to add water every so often as it boils out. Second, the majority of your cooking on this dish is already done. When it’s go-time, there’s maybe another half-hour from “fire” to “plate.” So, relax.

When your stock is done, you’ll have a dark, complicated brew suited to a million uses. And, you’ll probably have more than this recipe needs, so… yeah, free food for another day:

All of that goodness from six (6) thigh bones and a handful of veggies.

Step three: Are you making biscuits? You should make biscuits.

The recipe and method for these chain-seafood-knockoff (you know the one) fluffy, cheesy, buttermilk biscuits is here. They take about half an hour start to finish, and are absolutely worth it. But, this dish is also phenomenal over rice, quinoa, or as an open faced sandwich on crusty bread. Really though, biscuits are the pinnacle.

Step four: the “smothering.” Yeah, I guess we have to talk about that word. “Smothering” or “smothered” is a preparation I leaned in the context of Cajun technique, and I’m ashamed to say I don’t know whether there are larger implications of the term, so apologies for my ignorance in advance.

The general concept, as I understand it, is a perversion of French technique that yields some insane flavors, almost by accident, kinda like “blackening” but different. The goal is to get the chicken and aromatics to stick to the bottom of the skillet and almost burn, then deglaze with our stock, give everything a good jostle around to soak up all the delicious brown bits, then do it all again. And again. And again. The end result is an exquisitely rich sauce, with deep and nutty notes that highlight an absolute freight-train of chicken flavor.

So, with that said, dice up your remaining onion and celery ribs, and let them sweat over low heat until softened, about ten (10) to fifteen (15) minutes. Oh, we’re going to brown these bits, but not yet:

Okay, time to put the spurs to it. Crank the heat to high, and fetch your chicken thighs. Break them down into morsels slightly larger than bite-sized:

Then into the skillet in a single layer:

Try to get as much chicken in direct contact with the pan surface as possible, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Now, leave the heat on high and stand back.

The chicken will release some liquid. Let that fully cook off, then cover with stock:

Jostle the chicken and reposition everything, flipping the bigger pieces with tongs if necessary. And, well, you know the procedure from here. RUN IT BACK:

Stock reducing and evaporating:

And about here, hit it with another dose of stock.

Aaaaaaand reduce it again. More! More! Again! More!

You get the idea. You can do this as many times as you want, but I find three (3) to four (4) is the sweet spot before the chicken starts to break down too much. The thighs will hold up to a lot of abuse, which is why this recipe wouldn’t work with breasts, but even the mighty thigh will start to give up the ghost at a certain point. Our end goal is intact morsels, not pull-apart stringy.

Once you have the chicken and sauce where you think it should be, taste for salt (you’ll probably need some since we’ve barely used any in this recipe so far), and set it aside while you make the skin. If it binds up a bit, add a little more stock just before service.

As to the skin, in the oven at 500F for thirty (30) minutes, or until crispy and golden, then drain. Look, really you can do this WHILE you’re smothering the chicken, but, well, one thing at a time:

To serve, split a biscuit, plate up the chicken with plenty of sauce, and stand a crispy skin on top like a sailboat to chicken island:

There it is, six chicken thighs and some veggies, and the best chicken dish I’ve ever eaten.

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