This chicken with lemon, garlic and basil – the flavors of an Italian summer – cooks in one pan and gets a delicious crispy skin.
Even though we are now fully immersed in September, in our neck of the woods yesterday was actually the hottest day of the year so far. The thermometer that we keep by the chicken coop was up to 99ºF (37ºC) by noon, and stayed there until way past dark. Not to sound like a whiner, but that meant that our kitchen was hotter than a three dollar pistol and it was seriously messing with my plans. See, I had been dreaming about making this chicken all summer, and I had already bought all the ingredients that I couldn’t pick from the garden so I just decided to make it anyway, inferno be damned.
This chicken is kind of a variation on one of my favorite dishes of all time, Chicken with Lime, Garlic and Cilantro. It has the same incredible combination of crispy skin and tender meat that is just so damn good. But instead of the latin influence, this version is like a summer vacation in Italy, with the flavors of lemon, garlic and fresh basil.
Quick aside: A long time ago I had spent an afternoon on the Italian island of Capri all by myself, and all these years later I still remember it as one of the best days of my life. Capri is one of those magical places that is so beautiful, you can’t believe it’s real. But it is! I have pictures to prove it (this was before I knew anything about photography. I thought I was so damn fancy taking pictures with my little Canon point-and-shoot).
So as I was cooking, I tried to imagine that instead of my stiflingly hot New York kitchen, I was really in a lovely little villa overlooking the emerald Mediterranean Sea. That blast of heat on my face? That’s a breeze heated by the volcanic limestone cliffs, not the fishy-smelling breath of two cranky cats, yowling that at least the shelter had the decency to have central air conditioning.
Luckily in the end it was all worth it because this chicken is crazy good. The combination of lemon and garlic is always fantastic but the fresh basil adds a bright, almost peppery bite. I’m obsessed with this sauce and am going to try it next time with shrimp (before our basil plants finally give up the ghost for the season).
- Julia Child was wrong, don’t wash your chicken! Just use a clean cutting board, dry it well on paper towels, and cook it to the proper temperature (165º F / 74º C).
- A cast iron skillet is perfect for this recipe because it browns beautifully and goes in the oven. Just make sure it’s very well seasoned.
- You could substitute drumsticks or breasts for the thighs. If using boneless/skinless, be extra careful not to overcook or it can get dry.
- For a gluten free version, you could leave out the flour or substitute corn starch.
- If basil is not in season, the sauce would still be delicious without it. Add a little sprinkle of red chili flakes at the end.
I like to serve this with simple boiled baby potatoes or hunks of crusty bread for dipping. In summer, a side of sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt is just perfect.
- 6-8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on (about 1½ lb / 0.75 kg)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Coarse kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1 small onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup dry white wine (120 ml)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
- 1½ teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated (from 1 lemon)
- 2 cups chicken broth (475 ml)
- 1 cup fresh basil, leaves torn or coarsely chopped (about 1 large bunch) (more for garnish)
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced, for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
- Trim any excess fat from the chicken and pat them dry. Generously season each thigh on both sides with salt and pepper.
- Pre-heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven on medium-high for a minute and then add the oil. Add the thighs, skin-side down and cook until deeply browned (5-7 minutes). Don’t crowd the pan, work in batches if necessary. Turn and lightly brown other side (3-5 minutes). Remove thighs to a plate and set them aside.
- Lower the heat to medium and if the chicken has released a lot of fat, remove most of it, leaving about a tablespoon and a half. Add onions and cook until just soft, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for one minute more. Add flour and stir it into the onions, cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the wine and let it simmer for 3 minutes while scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Whisk in the broth, honey, lemon juice and zest and bring to a simmer. Taste sauce for seasoning, add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in half the basil and add back the chicken, skin-side up and place it, uncovered, into the oven. Cook for 25-35 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through (165º F / 74º C on an instant read thermometer). Sprinkle over the rest of the basil, garnish with sliced lemons and serve.