This is by far the best chicken dish I have ever made and possibly the best chicken I've ever eaten. Bold claims, I know. The key here is to make a marinade that's full of flavor, then to roast at a high heat so the thighs get a crispy exterior but the meat is falling off the bone on the inside.
If you don't have za'atar, you can make your own following these instructions, or substitute a blend of thyme and oregano. The original recipe, from Deborah Krasner's unparalleled Good Meat, calls for fresh cardamom pods and wild greek oregano.
Za'atar Roasted Chicken Thighs
adapted from Good Meat, by Deborah Krasner
2-4 lbs bone-in chicken thighs (we found 3.5 pounds serves about 7 people)
1 whole lemon, zested
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
5 cloves garlic, diced
4 tablespoons za'atar
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons whole black pepper pods
1 tablespoon sea salt
In a mortar and pestle, begin crushing pepper pods, diced garlic, and salt with a touch of olive oil. As pepper begins to break down, add sesame seeds and za'atar. Continue crushing. Add the juice of the lemon as well as its zest, cardamom, coriander, and, slowly, all of the olive oil. Crush until a mostly uniform paste is formed.
Brush each side of each chicken thigh with the paste and let marinate overnight, or for four hours at a minimum. It's easiest to let it marinate flesh side up directly in the baking dish you plan to cook the thighs in.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake chicken on a rack placed on the very top rung of your oven for 45 minutes total -- again, flesh side up in a shallow glass or ceramic baking dish. Halfway through, flip the meat so the skin side is up and can get crispy during the final baking time.
We served this with mushroom risotto and kale salad for a lovely Sunday dinner. Would be great with plain rice and a bit of yogurt and spinach, with mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash...so many possibilities for something so easy and satisfying.
Food Allergies and Ethics
Gluten-free, just check your spice blends. Obviously, not vegetarian or vegan. We have been enjoying buying meat from Whole Foods and cuing from their five-step animal welfare rating system. Bone-in chicken thighs are a relatively affordable cut of meat and cost less than white chicken meat, which makes it easier to handle the prices that come with Whole Foods. Local butchers and local meat are a better way to go, as well, if you have access.