I have a confession to make. I hate to cook chicken. I love to eat it, but every method of preparing it presents a real problem for me. Pan-searing usually results in hot oil spatter, a tough piece of chicken, and a pan crusted with yuck. Frying is delicious, but too much work and too much handwringing over cholesterol. Roasting a whole chicken is divine, but who has the time on a late weeknight evening? And besides . . . I have something else to get off my chest:
I steadfastly refuse to eat leftover chicken. I don’t care how delicious the teriyaki sauce was last night or how many hours I put into roasting it, its crispy skin crackling with garlic and butter, once it’s been put in the refrigerator, chicken is dead to me. Or, well, you know what I mean. Most people say I’m crazy, but, to me, it takes on an extremely unpleasant taste the second those refrigerator doors close.
Why on earth, you may be asking yourself, am I writing about gross things in the paradise of good food stories?
Because, after years of leftover-inflicted shame, I’ve finally perfected a method of preparing chicken that has solved all my problems. It’s easy; it requires almost no cleanup; it’s versatile; and, for all these reasons, it lets me cook only the chicken I want to eat right now—and then do it all over again tomorrow, if I want to, eliminating all leftovers.
I bake the chicken in an old, scratched-up pie tin (of course, you can use any smallish, oven-safe dish you like; the trick is to use something that isn’t too big—only eight inches or so—so that your chicken doesn’t dry out). I line the pie tin with foil so nothing sticks to the dish. Heck, sometimes I don’t even have to wash it. Then all I need is chicken and my favorite sauce.
Smothered in gorgeous sauce, the chicken doesn’t get tough: it just crisps a bit on the outside and stays moist inside. I’ve used this method to make delicious barbecue chicken, teriyaki chicken, and curried chicken. I’ve added salt, pepper, and some herbs to olive oil, and cooked the chicken on a bed of onions, carrots, and garlic for a single serving roast chicken that’s just as good as a whole one (I’d suggest skin-on thighs for this).
However I’ve prepared it, the cooking method remains the same, and so do the results: tasty, moist, healthy chicken for one—or as many as you want to feed. And, because you don’t have to do anything to the chicken except flip it halfway through, you can spend the first twenty minutes on a nice glass of wine and the second twenty minutes steaming your veggies, cooking your potatoes, making your rice, et cetera.
If it sounds like I’ve had some kind of religious experience, it’s because I have. The ability to get home from work, throw a healthy, single-serving, protein-rich meal into the oven and then change into pajamas, pour a glass of wine, and read a chapter of a book while I finish cooking has been a revelation.
This recipe is my favorite. The combination of sweet figs and savory mustard creates a marinade with a lot of flavor that pairs well with a variety of side dishes. Note: if you like the sweet and savory combo, you could also try apricot jam + balsamic vinegar or honey + peanut butter!
Dijon Fig Chicken
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Makes 1 serving (2 chicken thighs)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (see method below)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3-4 tablespoons fig preserves (I love Trader Joe’s fig butter)
- a few sips of white wine
- salt and pepper
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line the bottom and sides of a small pie tin or oven-safe dish that comfortably fits two pieces of chicken with foil.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the minced garlic to a small saucepan and cook over low heat just until the garlic is soft. Add the mustard and fig preserves, stirring to combine. Add splashes of wine until your marinade is the consistency of barbecue sauce. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (if you like). Adjust the amounts of mustard and fig preserves to your taste, then remove from heat.
Hit your pie tin with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil olive oil and strew shallots in the bottom (you can omit these, but it adds moisture to your chicken and prevents it from sticking to the tin foil).
Dredge the chicken in the sauce and put it atop the shallots. Then spoon the remaining sauce over the chicken, covering it.
Roast the chicken for about 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook for another 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of your pieces). Sometimes I like to stick mine under the broiler for a minute or two at the end, to develop a nice sticky crust.
Serve hot as the main dish, add to a stir-fry, or refrigerate for a great salad topping tomorrow (if you aren’t susceptible to the refrigerator-chicken effect).