Continuing on the chicken-fit-for-bento theme, here is another very simple grilled or pan-fried chicken recipe. This time, instead of chicken breast, chicken thighs are used. I know that many dieters avoid dark meat, and it is admittedly higher in fat content than white. But I think it’s so much more flavorful, especially when it comes from ordinary supermarket chicken.
When I was in college, I did the bookkeeping for a midtown Manhattan Japanese restaurant for a few months. The pay was mediocre and the work itself was quite boring, but I did at least get free lunch. Even though theoretically I could choose anything from the menu (barring the really expensive sushi or sashimi) on most days I chose the chikin shioyaki teishoku (Grilled salt chicken set). It was just a large salted chicken thigh with side vegetables (broccoli and something else, which I can’t remember), a bowl of miso soup and a bowl of white rice, but that chicken was so delicious! I couldn’t figure out why it was so crispy on the outside yet juicy on the inside. Some time later, I found out their ‘secret’ in a roundabout way. The key is to salt the chicken meat, then let it rest for a while. This causes the chicken to exude excess moisture, and firms up the meat. It does mean you need to plan ahead a bit to allow for the resting time, but it’s well worth it. You might wonder if a chicken dish can be so good with just salt and a little pepper, but it really is!
Trim any excess fat off boneless chicken thighs, but keep the skin on. Salt thorougly on both sides (be fairly light-handed or it will be too salty), then let rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for at least an hour. You can leave it like this overnight.
When you’re ready to cook the chicken, heat up a grill pan or a non-stick frying pan. No oil should be needed for the frying pan, but you may want to lightly brush some oil on a grill pan. (This method also works great for the barbeque grill.)
After the resting time there will be a little or a lot of moisture around the chicken (free-range chicken will have just a little, while cheap supermarket chicken may be sitting in a pool of water!) Blot off all the moisture completely, plus any excess salt on the surface. Add some freshly ground pepper at this stage.
Put the chicken skin down on the grill pan or frying pan, making sure not to crowd the pan. Cook over medium heat until the skin is golden brown. Turn over, and cook a few minutes more until the meat is cooked through. Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing.
Alternatively you can bake the thighs at 200°C / 400°F for 20 minutes with the skin down, then 20-25 minutes with the skin up. Tossing a few rosemary sprigs on the baking sheet enhances the flavor even more.
Serve with a wedge of lemon. This chicken is great hot or cold, and makes a great bento chicken or sandwich filler. Try it for a picnic as an alternative to fried chicken.
(Sorting note: I’ve put this in the Not Japanese recipe category, even though it is a Japanese recipe, because it doesn’t use any inherently Japanese ingredients - just chicken, salt, and a bit of lemon to finish!)
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