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Spicy orange chicken with flavorful spin

By Beth Dooley, Star Tribune
Published: February 14, 2024, 6:04am

There is no better cut of chicken than the thigh. Boneless, skinless thighs cook in half the time of bone-in, skin-on thighs (although I love those, too). But without the skin to protect the meat and the bones to keep it succulent, they just need a little more attention. A quick marinade that then becomes a sauce does the trick.

Citrus is this season’s gift. The acid in citrus juice helps flavor and tenderize the meat while slices of the fruit, layered around and on top of the chicken, turn tender and caramelize as their juices melt together. Serve the thighs over a cooked grain — white or brown rice, millet or farro — and then drizzle the pan sauce over it all. Don’t forget hunks of crusty bread to sop up all that lusciousness. Pair with a quick coleslaw or blanched broccoli.

It’s best to marinate the thighs for at least 10 minutes at room temperature — overnight in the refrigerator is even better — before cooking. While this recipe calls for oranges, you can swap them out for a few slices of those lovely Meyer lemons to give the sauce more bang. Spiked with cumin, coriander, cardamom, garlic and smoked paprika, the dish is finished with a handful of black olives to add umami and dates for a bit of sweetness. If that seems too much, just a sprinkling of za’atar or a nice seasoned salt and pepper is all you truly need. Use what you like and have on hand.

Tasty, inexpensive, simple to cook, and foolproof, these boneless, skinless chicken thighs are the surefire answer to what’s for dinner when time is short and hungers rage. Leftovers, if there are any, make a fabulous hot chicken sandwich stuffed into a pita with crumbles of feta.

Spicy Orange Chicken Thighs

Serves 4.

This recipe is inspired by Moroccan flavors and hits all the notes — savory, spicy, tangy and slightly sweet. Look for the Cara Cara navel oranges in co-ops. Their bright color and rich orange flavor is a great pairing with the dark meat chicken. From Beth Dooley.

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in half

4 to 5 orange slices, cut in half

1/4 cup pitted black olives

1/4 cup pitted dates

Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Cooked white or brown rice

In a large bowl, whisk together the orange juice, rice vinegar, olive oil, cumin, paprika, coriander, cardamom, salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the bowl and turn to evenly coat. Cover and marinate for about 10 minutes, or cover and refrigerate up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with parchment. Spread the chicken on the pan and tuck the orange slices under and around the chicken. Roast, rotating the pan halfway through, until the chicken is light brown, about 20 minutes. Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss in the olives and dates. Continue roasting until the chicken juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a knife and registers 165 on an instant-read thermometer, about 8 to 10 more minutes.

Remove and allow the chicken to rest a few minutes before serving over rice, drizzled with the pan juices and garnished with the olives, dates and cilantro.

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