The chicken dinner most worth obsessing over isn’t from Ina Garten or Chrissy Teigen — it’s from Joy Wilson of Joy the Baker (at least according to Kitchn readers!). A few months ago we put out a call for your favorite weeknight chicken recipe, and we were inundated with recommendations for Joy’s “The Best Weeknight Chicken Dinner.”
Joy’s baking blog is most popular for its sweet recipes, but life isn’t all brown butter and cookies. So when making dinner starts to feel like, as Joy puts it, “an exercise in You’re Not Going to Beat Me, Monday” she turns to a recipe that she calls “The Best Weeknight Chicken Dinner.” How could I resist trying it?
At its essence, this dinner is just braised chicken and potatoes. One commenter likened it to classic French coq au vin — which it is, mostly. But while that recipe takes a lot of time and effort, this is stripped down to its essence. Frankly, that’s the only way to make a dish viable for my weekly meal lottery. Here’s what Joy recommends, and what I did.
The best chicken dinner must start with the best cut of chicken. Joy and I agree that’s thighs. To my mind, chicken breasts are no match. The boneless, skinless thighs she calls for are quick-cooking, cheap, and have a savory, meaty flavor that breasts simply cannot touch. (More and more of America agrees with us.) But if you’re solidly Team Chicken Breast, you’ll at least want to cut them in half for this recipe.
I started, as Joy suggests, by browning the chicken (salted and peppered) in a large skillet. I used a 12-inch skillet, although a Dutch oven would do fine. I waited until the chicken turned golden and released easily from the pan before flipping it to brown the other side. The thighs shouldn’t cook all the way through in a recipe like this; the immediate goal is to develop color and flavor both on the chicken and for the braising liquid.
Next I added sliced onion, hearty chunks of red potatoes, and whole cloves of garlic, tossing the vegetables with the chicken gently until they began to soften and nestle among the browned thighs. The skillet was quite full at this point, but I started deglazing with white wine as best I could. If you make this recipe and the potatoes block your spoon, know that the caramelized fond (the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan) will naturally release from the bottom as the wine reduces and the chicken simmers in the stock — so don’t worry.
At this point Joy recommends pouring a glass of wine and daydreaming, but if your freezer isn’t stocked with three-minute microwave rice and frozen peas (mine wasn’t), you’ll need to get started on that. When the chicken was done and the potatoes were tender, I removed them to a serving platter and continued to cook the sauce to give it a thicker body.And that was it. After that, I assembled the meal.
Final Thoughts: This Is a Good Recipe
I’m no stranger to weeknight chicken dinners, but I’m glad I found this one. The ingredients are affordable and typically in my pantry or on my grocery list. And it isn’t a recipe that leans heavily on the spice rack for its flavor — it’s plenty tasty, but the flavors come from the ingredients and cooking techniques (searing, deglazing, and braising).
Even though I’m a food writer and recipe developer, I’ll admit that dinner doesn’t always come easy. So when Joy writes that eating “anything that isn’t popcorn or scrambled eggs is me really taking care of myself,” I completely understand.
When I read that, it felt like Joy was speaking to me, that we both felt tempted to just eat popcorn for dinner. Who hasn’t stood in a grocery store aisle, texting her best friend, “What do people even eat for dinner?” But I am also a grown woman. So I’m keeping this recipe in my back pocket, ready to bust out any Monday I need it. I can wait until Tuesday to send my dinner S.O.S.
Get the recipe: Joy the Baker “The Best Weeknight Chicken Dinner”
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