It Tastes Like Chicken: Braised Thighs with Garam Masala

You know how this goes: someone has never had rabbit, or quail, or rattlesnake, and asks, “What does it taste like?” and someone else says, “It tastes like chicken.” Chicken is a bland meat, with unchallenging flavor, so we dunk it into a seasoned batter and fry it, or we toss it on the grill and douse it with barbecue sauce, or bury it in some kind of curry, or slather it with pesto, and what we end up tasting is crispy, seasoned batter, barbecue sauce, curry, or pesto, or what have you. Chicken has a flavor but it is pretty mild, right up there with turkey, especially if you are doing boneless, skinless chicken breasts recommended for their low fat, while the more flavorful thighs are eschewed.

On the other hand, chicken’s mildness may be a good thing because we can vary it so much with seasonings. Maybe there could be only one recipe for chicken, with one ingredient varying to make for lots of recipes. So in the late-day what-to-have-for-supper crunch, a combination of chicken, rice, miscellaneous vegetables, and some interesting spice and herb mixture comes in handy. Here is an example.

I recently tasted a great dish friends made out of ground lamb seasoned with garam masala, a mixture of spices often found in Indian cooking. I like lamb, but it was the spicing I fell for. With only a little effort you can find the blend in a store, but it is pretty easy to concoct for yourself: you can google it (2,730,000 results in .27 seconds) to get a recipe online, or you can make some using the recipe below.

And then there are others: curry, the Moroccan blend ras al hanout, Italian seasoning, Greek mixtures, old fashioned English kitchen pepper, chili powder. Almost any of the rubs used for meat on the grill will work to vary a plain old piece of chicken.

All I did was cook some onions in oil, add a little minced garlic, put the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down to brown a little. I flipped them over, sprinkled on the garam masala, then I filled the spaces between the thighs with rice, added water, and covered it up. I did it on top of the stove but you could put it in the oven. I checked back a couple times, added a little more water for the rice, poked the thighs until the juice ran clear. I tucked in a stray bit of broccoli here and there to steam, and added a little chopped red pepper, and sprinkled cilantro on top before serving. All that extra stuff is optional, however. The rice comes out deliciously flavored with a combination of the spicing and chicken juices.

I bet I could get away with making this every week for a couple of months by only changing the spice mixture. If we got tired of rice, I could switch to orzo or Israeli couscous. After all, the hardest part of cooking is figuring out what to have.

Chicken Thighs with Rice and Some Kind of Spice
1 small onion
A clove or two of garlic
Olive or other vegetable oil
1 chicken thigh per person
Sprinkle of garam masala (or spice blend of choice) to taste
¼ cup of uncooked rice per person
½ cup of hot water per person
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chop the onion and mince the garlic. Put a little oil in a heavy pan, and heat it over a moderate flame. Add the onion and garlic, cook until the onions are just a little soft, and then push them aside to make room for the thighs, skin side down. Brown the thighs. Turn them over and sprinkle the tops with your spice blend of choice. Add rice around the thighs and pour the hot water into the pan. Cover the pan. After the rice has begun to swell, about fifteen minutes, check and add water if needed. Cook until the thighs are done, and juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about a half-hour to forty minutes.
Makes a variable number of servings.

Garam Masala
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoons ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Mix and store in a small jar.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.