BY MELISSA D'ARABIAN, Associated Press
People often ask me what my most-used kitchen tool is (a high-speed blender). But if you were to ask my mom that same question 30 years ago, I am sure she would have answered her Pyrex baking dish.
When I was growing up, probably 75 percent of my meals were made in that thing. Baked fish. Baked chicken. Baked pasta. Baked rice casserole.
Baked dinner figured big in my childhood. As I got older and moved into my own apartment, I wondered why my mom didn't explore other techniques a little more. She could have been searing that fish! And why not saute that chicken for some delicious crusty browning that results in so much flavor?
Now that I'm a mom, I understand the appeal of the litany of baked dishes my mom had on her (admittedly limited) menu. Baked stuff is easy! And as a mom of four busy girls, I need something easy to make on a Tuesday night, because between dance class and lacrosse practice, I only have a short window during which to make dinner happen. And since the healthiest dinners are the ones we make ourselves, baked chicken is on frequent repeat in my family meal repertoire.
But I've learned a few lessons during the past forty years, improving significantly upon Mom's version.
First, I use dark meat chicken with the bone-in. This significantly widens the window of cooking time forgiveness, so if someone is running late, dinner is still juicy. Plus, dark meat chicken has more flavor, and the little extra fat means it's more filling. Second, I go heavy with the aromatics — herbs, onion and garlic almost can't be overused in baked chicken.
Upgrading from white wine to vermouth also is a great flavor-booster. Lastly, I start the chicken with just enough of a saute to get a tasty, golden crust. But if you really can't make that happen, don't be shy about just loading up that glass baking dish and popping it into the oven.
BEST BAKED WEEKNIGHT CHICKEN
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence (or dried thyme and oregano mixed)
20 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup dry vermouth
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large, Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Working in batches, briefly brown the chicken thighs on both sides, 6 to 7 minutes, transferring them to a plate as you work.
In a small bowl, toss together the herbes de Provence, garlic, shallots and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper.
Once all the chicken has browned, return it to the pot off the heat. Arrange the chicken in a single, but tight layer. Spoon the shallot and garlic mixture around the chicken. Pour the lemon juice and vermouth evenly around the chicken. Cover the pot and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken reaches 175 F.
Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories; 110 calories from fat (38 percent of total calories); 13 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 130 mg cholesterol; 380 mg sodium; 10 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 29 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, "Supermarket Healthy." http://www.melissadarabian.net
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Images: This March 7, 2016 photo shows best baked weeknight chicken in Concord, N.H. One-dish baked chicken dishes like this are a reliable and easy way to get dinner on the table fast during the workweek. (AP Photo/J.M. Hirsch)