Anyway, at some point during the weekend I watched an episode of Sara's Weeknight Meals with cook Sara Moulton, whom I truly like and admire. She was doing an episode in which she made a baked chicken recipe that called for only five ingredients and was supposed to be ridiculously easy. And yet she added a whole lot of work to it. I can't blame her, especially. This particular recipe is all over the place and the ones I've checked have all have you make it the same ridiculously labor-intensive way. (I first ran across this recipe in a book by Judith Viorst called Murdering Mr. Monti. You'll notice that I'm not linking it to the Amazon page as I usually do with books I mention in my posts, as it's not really worth reading. I read it back in my I'll-read-almost-anything-if-it's-a-mystery days. But you should read her other books, including the one I have in the downstairs bathroom, Alexander and the the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days.) Some recipes call for boneless chicken breasts, yet another strike against them, but Sara's recipe calls for a cut-up bone-in skin-on chicken, which is a step up. But I just had the aforementioned boneless chicken thighs. (Sara agrees with me on this item, by the way, saying in one of her recipe posts, "Chicken thighs should be more popular. The meat is much more flavorful than the white meat and almost always cooks up moist, which is not something you can say of chicken breast meat.") So as I watched the episode I thought, 'Those look so good, and I'll make them an easier way. We can have them for dinner.' And so I did. The three of us scarfed down the whole batch.
So what's so labor intensive about the original? The biggest source of the unnecessary work comes from how you're told to melt the butter: in a saucepan on the stove. So silly! You've now messed up a whole pan. Then you're told to pour the melted butter into a bowl and mix it with the garlic, yet another messed-up container. (And we keep being told to smash/mince our garlic, which I refuse to do. Why do you think garlic presses were invented? You can see my nice stainless steel one in the pictures. No garlicky hands or cutting board when you use it!) Then you have to mix the breadcrumbs and the Parmesan together in yet another bowl. And then you bake the chicken on a baking sheet. If you're keeping track, the recipe has you use four different items, when you could really use just one or two. So here's my recipe, at least for now. I'm going to re-do it soon and make it even easier, but I'll tell you at the end what I'm planning to do.
Really Easy Garlic Baked Chicken
- 3-4 pounds of chicken, preferably boneless chicken thighs or bone-in skin-on parts, or (sigh) if you really must, boneless chicken breasts (Obviously you're going to get more meat from 4 pounds of boneless chicken than from 4 pounds of bone-in parts, but you'll still have the same amount of real estate to cover with the butter and crumbs/cheese. So adjust your expectations accordingly as to how many people you can serve.)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 stick of butter (The original recipe calls for 2 sticks. Folks, I'm a great fan of butter, but to call for that much for this amount of chicken is just ridiculous. Sara says that you don't want to run out of garlic butter in the middle of things and has you drizzle the leftover butter on top of the chicken after you coat it with breadcrumbs, yet another fiddly step that may end up disturbing your nice crumb coating you've just worked so hard to achieve.)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 cup breadcrumbs, preferably panko (Please don't use other store-bought breadcrumbs if you can possibly help it, as they seem so stale. You can pulse up a slice or two of bread in your food processor--and if you have a mini one, so much the better, as then you don't have to mess up a whole big appiance--if you don't have panko.) I try to keep an eye out for panko on sale at my regular grocery store or to see if it's available at Costco, and then I stock up and keep it in the freezer. It's just great to keep on hand. (Does everyone know what panko is? They're Japanese-style breadcrumbs, very light and crisp.) I know you're supposed to make any leftover bread into crumbs and freeze that, but I find that a) I rarely have leftover bread, and b) homemade breadcrumbs seem to stick together into a ball when I freeze them. And yes, you do have to freeze them! Don't refrigerate bread unless you like mold.)
- 1 cup finely-grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (that you grated yourself, preferably on a microplane grater since that will give you the nicest, fluffiest result)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the butter and spread out on a baking sheet, then put that into the oven while it heats. The butter will melt in about five minutes. Take the pan out to cool slightly while you do the rest of the prep. Press the garlic right into the pan and mix it around.
Meanwhile, trim any big globs of fat from your chicken. If you're using boneless chicken breasts, you really should remove the tough tendon, a task that gives you yet another reason not to use them. Mix the breadcrumbs and cheese together in a small bowl. Roll your chicken pieces around in the garlic butter and then in the crumb mixture and place back onto the baking sheet. If you have any extra crumb mixture, just pile it onto the tops of the chicken pieces. Bake for about 30 minutes (for boneless chicken) or 45-50 minutes (for bone-in chicken). Pour any accumulated juices from the pan onto the chicken once you've placed it on a serving platter, or just serve from the baking sheet and scrape any drippings onto each serving.
What I plan to do next time: I'm going to mix the butter and breadcrumbs/cheese together on the baking sheet after the butter is melted. I will try to let the pan cool as much as possible before I add the breadcrumbs/cheese onto the pan, so that I don't end up with globs of melted cheese in my mixture. The chicken pieces can then be plopped onto the baking sheet and coated with the butter/crumbs/cheese mixture. I'll press the mixture onto the chicken to get a good coating. Not only will this save a bowl, but it will also coat the breadcrumbs with butter, thus causing them to brown more evenly. I'll report back on my success!