Dinner needs a game plan, and we've got you covered: Versatile menus and meal prep guides for the week ahead — every Thursday for 12 weeks.
Gather ’round the water cooler, because I’m going to tell you about one of the more heated office debates I’ve engaged in: What’s the best part of a chicken?
One colleague was adamant: “Anything but the thigh.”
I’m sorry, what? I wondered to myself, and then out loud, what it must be like to be so wrong. We decided to settle things with a very scientific Twitter poll. My mentions were rife with takes.
“I vote leg for ease of eating.”
“The best part of the chicken is her mind.”
“Well, the breast is probably the healthiest part of a chicken but aren't we really just grabbing at straws with the question?”
Yes we are, Dan T. from Twitter. Because the correct answer, as the poll inevitably determined, is the thigh.
The thighs are the juiciest, most flavorful (and most forgiving) parts of the bird, and I won’t entertain otherwise.
As far as weeknight dinners go, we could always throw some thighs in a skillet and call it a day. But thighs are as versatile as they are convenient. Why not debone and skin some and work them into recipes that traditionally call for breast? After all, we make the rules here. It’s a cost-effective alternative that yields far tastier results.
This week's game plan
Momo Yakitori With Spicy Smashed Cukes
A simple, homemade teriyaki sauce doubles as a marinade and a glaze for these quick-cooking chicken skewers.
Chicken Schnitzel With German Potato Salad
Remarkably tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, these “cutlets” will have you wondering why more people don’t make schnitzel with thighs.
Hot Chicken Lettuce Wraps
You’ll hardly recognize that leftover schnitzel after it takes a quick dip in hot sauce and wraps itself in a cool, green blanket.
Your shopping list
Sound good? Thought so. Click this link for an easy-to-save shopping list that includes ingredients for all three recipes.
Skin, debone and portion out your chicken thighs
You can buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs and I will do absolutely nothing to stop you — but your wallet might. At my preferred grocery store, we’re talking a difference of nearly $2 per pound, and that’s assuming they have them. If you have a pair of reliable kitchen shears, you can skin and debone a (cheaper) pack of thighs in little time.
Start by pulling the skin up from the top of the thigh; one side will easily peel up. Working carefully not to tear the skin if you plan to use it (and you should; see the tip below), gently lift from underneath the skin with one hand while holding the meat down with the other. The skin will pretty easily separate from all but one side of the thigh. Pull the skin over to the side that’s still attached; stretch the skin and cut what’s still connected with shears (a.k.a. kitchen scissors). Trim any remaining fat or skin from the sides and repeat with the other thighs.
Cool, so you’ve removed the skins. Now, turn a thigh bone side up. Score a line through the meat close to the bone with your shears. Using that as your guide, cut around the bone as closely as you can, leaving as much meat intact as possible; you don’t want to cut all the way through the meat to the other side. Trim off the cartilage from the bottom end of the bone. Lift that end up and cut closely underneath the bone until you make it to the top, then remove the remaining cartilage and tough gristle and separate the meat from the bone.
That wasn’t terrible, right? Repeat and save all your bones in a freezer-friendly zip-top bag to make stock.
We’re in the home stretch now. Grab three boneless, skinless thighs and cut them with a chef’s knife into 1½-to- 2-inch chunks. These will be the nugs for your yakitori. Store them in the fridge in a heavy-duty zip-top bag or a small glass container.
Next up is a little schnitzel prep. Grab four boneless, skinless thighs. Lay plastic wrap over a large cutting board and spread out the chicken. Lay another sheet of plastic wrap over the thighs.
Sunday scaries getting the best of you? Now’s the time to rage-pound the thighs with a meat mallet or rolling pin (or that cast-iron skillet you got last Christmas). Hit them until the surface area of the chicken thighs has nearly doubled and they’re flattened to about ¼-inch thickness. Cathartic, right? Separate the thighs between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper and transfer them to a heavy-duty zip-top bag. Into the fridge they go.
Momo Yakitori With Spicy Smashed Cukes
Tare. Ever heard of her? She’s a Japanese marinade or glaze frequently paired with grilled meats. Teriyaki is certainly the most well-known style of tare, which you’ll make a version of for the chicken. The smashed cucumber salad will get slimy when it’s made too far in advance, so toss that together just before you’re ready to eat.
Prep time: 35 minutes. Cook time: 25 minutes.
2 servings. You’ll need:
For the chicken
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup mirin (see your shopping list for a note on this)
2 tablespoons sake, sherry or white wine
2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons light brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon gojuchang (Korean pepper paste; optional)
3 scallions, 1 snapped in half and the other 2 cut into 1-inch pieces
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thigh chunks (from 3 thighs)
For the cucumber salad
1 large English (seedless) cucumber
1 teaspoon plain rice vinegar
1 teaspoon pure sesame oil
1 scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced
¼ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more as needed
Toasted sesame seeds
Equipment you might not have on hand:
Four 8-inch bamboo skewers
Wire cooling rack (not silicone-coated)
For the chicken: To keep from roasting the bamboo skewers to oblivion, fill a baking dish or tall glass with water and let the skewers soak while you prep the meal (at least 30 minutes, but you could also do this the night before if you’re into that).
To make the tare, whisk together the soy sauce, mirin, sake (or sherry or white wine), brown sugar, garlic, gochujang and 1 scallion snapped in half in a small saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat until the entire surface area is covered with small bubbles. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring a couple times, to form a slightly thickened sauce that has a lip gloss-worthy sheen to it. Remove from the heat.
This sauce will double as a marinade and a glaze.
Transfer half the tare to a bowl and let it cool. Load the marinating bowl with chicken thigh chunks. Gently pierce some of the pieces with a fork, give ’em a quick spin so that they’re evenly coated and then let them kick it for at least 20 minutes, giving the nugs a toss at the halfway mark.
While the chicken bathes, make the cucumber salad: Snap your cucumber in half, place it in a freezer zip-top bag and seal it, pressing out as much air as possible. Then whack the cuke with a rolling pin (while it’s in the bag) until it’s cracked in places and flattened a bit. Honestly, I’d eat way more salads if they all involved hitting veggies with a stick. Empty the smashed cucumber onto a cutting board and cut into bite-size chunks, then move the chunks to a fine-mesh strainer in the sink. Toss the cukes with a three-fingered pinch of salt and let ’em drain until the chicken hits the broiler.
Line a small baking sheet with foil and top it with a wire cooling rack. It’s not a grill, but it kind of looks like one and will get the job done. Position an oven rack near the bottom of your oven and preheat the broiler on high. Once the chicken has had ample time to marinate, build your skewers.
Fold a chicken piece in half, pierce through both sides, slide it down and follow closely with a 1-inch piece of scallion. Repeat until each skewer has 4 pieces of chicken and 3 or 4 scallion pieces snugly packed on it. Drizzle a bit more marinade over each and toss out the rest of that marinade.
Arrange the skewers on the wire rack and slide ’em under the broiler for 3 minutes.
There’s no time to rest. The cukes could use some attention. Add the cucumber chunks to a serving bowl with the rice vinegar, sesame oil, thinly sliced scallion, cilantro and crushed red pepper flakes. Toss, toss, toss and then hit everything with a shake or two of sesame seeds.
Three minutes flew by. Use tongs to turn over the yakitori skewers and broil for 4 minutes more. When the timer screams at you, turn off the broiler and take out the makeshift grill. The yakitori should have a nice char to them.
Brush both sides of each skewer with some of the reserved tare. Plate them alongside a small bowl of however much tare you have left and serve with the smashed cucumber salad.
Yakitori marinade adapted from “The Complete Asian Cookbook” by Charmaine Soloman (Hardie Grant, 2017).
Chicken Schnitzel With German Potato Salad
The storing and reheating process for schnitzel is a bit of a choose-your-own adventure. You can:
1. Egg-and-crumb the thighs in advance, separate them with parchment paper or plastic wrap, then store them in a zip-top bag in the fridge for a day or two.
2. Egg, crumb and individually wrap the thighs, toss them in a freezer-friendly zip-top and freeze, for up to 9 months.
If you choose to freeze them uncooked, you can bake from frozen or defrost and fry according to the recipe below. Cooked schnitzel can sit pretty in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes. Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes.
2 servings, plus leftovers for Hot Chicken Lettuce Wraps. You’ll need:
For the potato salad
8 ounces baby Yukon Gold potatoes (or another tiny, waxy potato), halved or quartered
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar (may substitute fresh lemon juice)
½ teaspoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 celery rib, thinly sliced into “Cs”
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
For the schnitzel
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, flattened to a thickness of ¼ inch (4 thighs)
Freshly cracked black pepper
¼ cup flour
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
1 cup plain panko
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Lemon slices, for serving
For the potato salad: Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat, then carefully lower in the potato chunks. Cook for 10 minutes or until they’re tender enough to easily pierce with a fork. Drain and let cool.
Meanwhile, prep for the schnitzel: Season both sides of the chicken lightly with salt and pepper. Let’s tackle the coating and dipping assembly. Use a fork to mix together the flour, onion powder and paprika in a bowl. Thoroughly whisk together the egg, Dijon mustard and water in a separate bowl. Spread panko on a large plate and season it lightly with salt. This setup, my friends, is your Schnitzel Station™️.
Here’s what’s going down: For each flattened thigh, you’ll first drag it through the flour mixture, then dip it in eggy mustard, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, and then finish things off with a quick one-two flip through the panko, making sure those crumbs stick.
Line up the breaded thighs on a cutting board next to the stove top. Line a plate with paper towels and place it nearby.
Cool, let’s switch gears and get back to the potato salad. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and mustard in a bowl. Add the potatoes, celery and dill and toss with a fork to combine. It’s okay if you smash the potatoes lightly or they break a little, but we’re going for good chunks. Taste it, season with salt and pepper and set the bowl in the fridge until it’s serving time.
Game time. Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Get the fat nice and hot; put things to the test by dropping in a couple of panko crumbs. If the fat is hot enough, they should sizzle and brown almost immediately.
Working in batches as needed, fry each chicken thigh for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Transfer each schnitzel to the lined plate, stacking them as you go. You shouldn't reuse any of your Schnitzel Station remnants, so chuck those in the trash when everything’s breaded and cooked.
Serve the schnitzel with lemon wedges and potato salad (or salad greens if you have those lying around). Reserve 2 schnitzel pieces for leftovers.
Schnitzel based on a recipe from “Great Tastes: Cooking (and Eating) From Morning to Midnight” by Danielle Kosann and Laura Kosann (Clarkson Potter, 2018).
Leftovers: Hot Chicken Lettuce Wraps
I’m all about an inspiring glow-up, and your leftover chicken schnitzel did not come to play. Yeah, we’re talking Buffalo chicken wraps. IMO, the absolute worst part of your average wrap is the flour tortilla separating you from what you actually came here for: crunchy, spicy meat. So ditch the flabby thing for crisp butter lettuce leaves. The cool-hot contrast just works, and the various add-ins are totally up to you; I like the texture that celery and scallions provide, but you can also add tomatoes, cucumbers or other chopped produce.
The world is your buff-chick wrap. But I explicitly forbid you from using ranch dressing. Them’s the rules. (Okay, I’m only half kidding. Follow your heart.)
Re-crisp the schnitzel in a 400-degree oven on a foil-lined baking sheet, then cut it into ½-inch-wide strips. Treat them to a quick drizzle of melted butter mixed with your favorite hot sauce (a tablespoon or two of each). Toss together a spread of crumbled blue cheese, yogurt and a squeeze of lemon juice; season it with salt and pepper. I assemble thusly: lettuce leaf or two, turned up like a cup schmear of blue cheese spread buffalo chicken schnitzel strips celery and scallions.
Help me prove that chicken thighs are superior.
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Week 3 sneak peek: Never let herbs go to waste again.
Wow, y'all showed up for Week 1. (Clockwise from top left) Tina, Anne, Ross and Shira especially did not come to play. Thanks for sharing! Make sure you're tagging your Meal Plan of Action creations with #eatvoraciously so I know you're cooking with me (and for a chance at a shout out right here).
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View Week 1 here.