Growing up in the 90’s, when everyone was sure that fat was the cause of heart disease (whoops, major fail), the breast was the only part of the chicken we ate. I remember my mom coming home from the grocery store with packs of chicken breasts and wrapping them in saran wrap to be frozen for later use. If my brother was there, she would inevitably say something about the breasts being so large they must “double d”. My mom and I would laugh together while my brother would scowl at us, mortified. Ahhh memories.
I always loved chicken, but hated the dark meat. It was greasy and it upset my stomach. In hindsight, that was probably because my digestion was significantly sub-par, likely due to chronic dairy consumption. But that was okay, because dark meat was higher in fat and should be avoided! So my belly was looking out for me…or so I thought.
Once I began making an effort to source ethically-raised meat I realized how darn expensive chicken breasts were. Not to mention, I couldn’t find a single paleo recipe that used chicken breasts. So I bit the bullet and bought a pack of chicken thighs – at half the price! While I was significantly less afraid of animal-fat (still borderline though), I still had this strong memory of dark meat making me feel sick, so I was very skeptical about how the recipe would turn out. I think my husband was secretly hoping I still wouldn’t like it so he could eat the whole thing!
So how did it turn out? Let’s just say I haven’t bought a chicken breast since! Not only is it much richer in flavour, the dark meat also packs a serious nutritional punch! It is jam-packed with iron, zinc, selenium, taurine and delicious fat (keep in mind fat is only as healthy as the environment it is raised in). If you keep the skin on you are even better off! The connective tissue from healthy animals is high in glycine – an animo acid found in very low concentrations in the muscle meat of animals. Dr. Sarah Ballantyne has a great article on the importance of glycine. To quickly sum up her post, consuming adequate amounts of glycine is crucial for supporting our own connective tissue (which allows our bodies to stay together – slightly important!); heal tissue damage on a gross and microscopic level; synthesize DNA and RNA; and support a healthy nervous system. Even though it is so important, glycine isn’t considered an “essential amino acid” because our bodies can synthesize it. However, I think of that as more of a “fail-safe” in the body. If we don’t get enough of this crucial amino acid from our diet, our body will figure it out. But why put that unnecessary stress on our physiological processes when it is easy (not to mention delicious) to eat?! So what does this all mean?
Eat the dark meat and enjoy that crispy chicken skin!
I bet you didn’t expert to hear that from a nutritionist! There is one caveat though – the chicken must be pasture-raised and antibiotic free.
This recipe is centred around crispy chicken thighs, but the pesto is really where the magic happens. I love leafy greens and sometimes I go a little overboard at the store (or mother nature goes overboard in my garden!). I end up with a fridge full of wilting greens and not enough mouths to handle the job. So, in order to avoid throwing out vegetables (blasphemy!), I make a huge batch of pesto. I freeze it in ½ cup portions and use it in a variety of recipes – from pasta sauce on spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles, to pizza! It is also a great way to add greens to a simple meat-based meal, which is exactly what I did in this recipe – Baked Chicken Thighs with Herb & Kale Pesto – enjoy!
- 4 large chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
- sea salt
- black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 2 cups kale, chopped
- ⅓ cup fresh basil and oregano
- sea salt
- black pepper
- ⅔ cup broth (or water), divided
- 1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
- 2. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and top with a cooling rack.
- 3. Liberally season chicken thighs with sea salt and pepper.
- 4. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear when cut open.
- 1. While the chicken is cooking, heat olive oil in a pan.
- 2. Add onion and garlic. Sautee for 5 minutes, until onion starts to soften.
- 3. Add kale and cook for another 5 minutes.
- 4. Pour into blender or food processor. Add fresh herbs, sea salt, black pepper and ⅓ cup broth.
- 5. Blend, adding more liquid until desired consistency is achieved.
- 6. Set aside. If necessary, heat through in a small saucepan before serving.
- 1. Spread 2 tbsp of pesto on a plate.
- 2. Set baked chicken thighs on top of pesto.
- 3. Serve with a side of your favourite root veggie!
- 4. Alternatively - toss the chicken in the pesto and broil for a few minutes before serving.
- Play around with the ratio of kale (or other greens) to herbs. If you are trying to hide the flavour of kale, reduce the amount and use more herbs.
- Any green herbs will work. Get creative!
- You don't have to cook the pesto ingredients before blending if you want to save time! However, cooking mellows out the flavour, so it will be much more bitter.
Baking chicken thighs on a rack eliminates the need for flipping halfway and results in a crispy skin all around! Season liberally to maximize flavour.
Add as much or as little kale (or other greens) as you want/have and cook down.
Any herbs will work in this recipe. I used what I had in my garden – fresh basil and a bit of oregano.
Blend and voila! Delicious pesto ready for a variety of recipes!
Get fancy and spread on the plate before plating the chicken, or pour on afterwards. Either method tastes amazing!
So tell me, are you a white meat or dark meat person? And what’s your favourite way to enjoy chicken?