When was the last time you were really excited about cooking chicken? Probably not for a while. Even worse, can you remember the last time a chicken recipe surprised you? No? While that’s understandable. Chicken dishes can be boring, but they don’t have to be. Check out this Cinnamon Coconut Milk Chicken recipe, for instance. It takes chicken thighs in a completely different direction by incorporating various unique spices you won’t commonly find used for poultry.
Don’t Fear Using Spices in Savory Dishes
Most Americans have woefully sparse spice cabinets, and they’re afraid of using the ones they have in new and unique ways. Few home cooks have the nerve to use the most flavorful spices, like clove and cinnamon, for anything other than holiday baking. That’s a shame because these spices can add so much to savory dishes.
Luckily, there are other culinary traditions that not only embrace using a variety of spices but love to combine flavors in ways that are entirely different from what most Americans are comfortable doing. This recipe comes from the French Caribbean cooking tradition and uses some of the region’s favorite flavors like cinnamon and clove, and then simmers the chicken thighs in coconut milk. These flavors may not show up in main courses on your dining room table regularly, but isn’t it time to change that?
Buy Quality Spices and Treat Them Right
Sorry, but if you are still buying your spices in prepackaged tiny tins and glass jars at your local supermarket, you’re just wasting your money. Spices lose their flavor quickly, or worse, go rancid, and no one wants that.
So, instead of dealing with spices that have been sitting on store shelves for who knows how long, shop at a store that specializes in spices. If you are fortunate enough to have an ethnic Caribbean, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian store in your neighborhood, check out what they are selling. You are sure to find everything you need for this recipe, along with a ton of other unique, delicious food and wonderful products you never knew existed!
Once you go through all the effort to buy better spices, go ahead and do yourself a favor by treating them well. That means keeping them in an airtight container in a cool and dark place. A kitchen cupboard away from the heat of the stove is ideal. While ground spices last for up to a year, it is much better to store whole spices and grind them as necessary. If you don’t already have a spice grinder, you can pick one up online for less than 20 bucks, and it is worth it.
You can bring out the authentic flavor of your spices by dry roasting them in a pan on the stove. It is so simple. Just warm a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat and add the spice you want to cook. You can use whole spices or dried spices, but don’t mix them, or you are likely to burn the ones that are ground. Use a wooden spatula to move the spices around in the pan slowly. Once you can smell the toasted spices, remove them from the heat and let them cool before using.
Can’t I Just Buy Boneless Chicken Thighs?
Not only are bone-in chicken thighs cheaper, but they taste better. It’s true. That’s because all of the goodness inside the bone, the marrow, leaves the bone during the cooking process and marinates the meat. The result is a moist and more intensely flavored chicken thigh, and who doesn’t love that?
As a bonus, the bone helps the thigh maintain its shape, giving it an appealing appearance and allowing the chicken to cook more evenly. If you are concerned about young children or older relatives eating bone-in chicken, you can always remove the bone yourself before serving.
So, sure, you could use boneless chicken thighs (or even chicken breasts), but why would you?
- 4 chicken thighs skinless and bone-in
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper freshly ground
- 3/8 teaspoon cinnamon freshly ground & divided
- 3 tablespoons oil use a neutral oil that can handle high heat like canola or grapeseed
- 1 medium white onion chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 cloves remove before serving (you can wrap them in cheesecloth to make them easier to find)
- 1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons cilantro finely chopped
- 13.5 oz. can of coconut milk not cream of coconut milk
- Pat the chicken thighs dry and bring them up to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, combine the salt, ground pepper, and 1/4 of a teaspoon of the ground cinnamon in a small bowl.
- Toss the chicken thighs with the cinnamon mixture, and let the seasoned chicken rest for a few minutes.
- Pour the oil into a rondeau or a large pan and heat over high heat.
- Once the oil is shimmering, carefully place the chicken thighs in the pan and watch out because the oil may splatter.
- Cook long enough to brown the chicken thighs on both sides, about 3 minutes on each side.
- Remove chicken. Drain the excess fat from the pan, but don't wipe it out. You want to keep all those flavorful brown bits for the sauce.
- Add the onions and garlic to the hot pan and cook for a minute or two to color slightly.
- Pour in the coconut milk, and mix in the cloves, mustard powder, paprika, and the rest of the cinnamon.
- Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
- Add chicken back to pan. Stir in the parsley and cilantro.
- Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. You may need to adjust the heat to prevent the liquid from boiling or add a little water if the pan is drying out.
- Optionally, save the sauce the chicken cooked in to drizzle on top of the chicken once you are ready to eat it.