I’ve always been more of a thigh girl than a breast girl. I love saying this. Not only is it true but it also appeals to my inner five-year-old, whose sense of humor oddly intersects with that of a dirty old man. But thinly-veiled innuendos aside, I am telling the truth. I think chicken thighs are better than chicken breasts. I’m team dark meat all the way. But I still think the breast has a time and a place. I prefer chicken breast with caesar salad or in a club sandwich for instance. And I thought I preferred boob when it came to chicken Milanese, scallopine, and/or parmigiana but these Za’atar Crusted Chicken Thighs have given me pause.
I’m not sure why but I don’t think I’ve ever had something like Chicken Picatta made with any other cut than breast. Turkey scallopine – same thing. It seems if we’re going to bread and fry a boneless poultry part, the breast is apparently where it’s at. But why? If I prefer chicken thighs in every other chicken dish, why can’t I deploy them when I want to give them a Milanese treatment? Answer – there isn’t a reason, I just hadn’t tried it.
Admittedly, the chicken thigh is much more prone to splintering than the breast. The breast can withstand a kitchen mallet and remain intact. A crucial attribute if you’re making something akin to schnitzel. But what if you took a gentler approach? Rather than wailing on the chicken, you approach it with some well-placed whacks. Well, I can tell you from experience, it makes all the difference. Plus, if you’re flattening a thigh to a 1/4 of an inch thickness, you don’t really have to give it that much force. Getting a breast to that thickness can do a number on your forearms, not so with a thigh.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and declare that these Za’atar Crusted Chicken Thighs are the first chicken thighs to be given the schnitzel treatment. I’m sure there are many recipes, old and new, that do just that. I bring up this revelation to illustrate that just because something is prepared one-way multiple times doesn’t mean there’s a real reason for it. Well, there might be a reason. And you will very quickly find that reason when you experiment. But for the most part, if you see a way to change a dish to suit your tastes a little more, it will probably work out. Maybe not with your favorite baking recipes, but cooking – yes. There’s almost always a reason for everything in baking, so fair warning.
Now for my favorite part – the Briny Farro Salad. It’s no secret that I love farro. It’s easy to prepare, has an amazing chew, and absorbs everything it comes into contact with. In other words, it’s a culinary dreamboat. I wanted to make a salad that made the most of farro’s flavor-absorbing qualities, so I landed on an anchovy-based vinaigrette. Now, for anyone squeamish about the canned fish, don’t worry. The anchovy is very much a background note. A low growl of umami, not an overwhelming high note of oily fishiness.
What I love most about this vinaigrette is it comes together in a mortar and pestle. This is great if you have some anger to work out. Essentially, you form a paste of garlic, anchovies, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt. And then you whisk in some olive oil and red wine vinegar. This is one of the punchiest vinaigrettes I have ever come up with and it definitely gives the farro salad most of its swagger but not all of it.
This farro salad is loaded with olives and capers. I suppose it’s easy to see where the “briny” moniker came from. And the salad also gets a dash of sweetness from blistered cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes’ juiciness also contributes to the coat-ability of the vinaigrette. So as you can see, everything in this salad works together to make an incredibly memorable dish. Seriously, this Briny Farro Salad is one of my favorites things I’ve made in a while. Well, at least when it comes to salads. It’s hard to beat Lobster Curry Noodles.
The za’atar in the Za’atar Crusted Chicken Thighs is crucial to the success of this entire dish. The sumac in the za’atar gives the thighs a lovely low-level tang that echos the considerable tang of the salad. And the za’atar’s herbal qualities calms the zing of the salad. So without the za’atar, the farro salad and the crispy chicken thighs would be two separate items on the same plate instead of a cohesive dish. Za’atar is just magical and it should not be skipped in this recipe by any means.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Za’atar Crusted Chicken Thighs with Briny Farro Salad. This is honestly one of my new favorite meals. I can’t wait to eat it on a patio with a nice bottle of white wine on ice. It’s the perfect late spring, early summer meal.
Za’atar Crusted Chicken Thighs with Briny Farro Salad
- Cast iron skillet
- mortar and pestle
Briny Farro Salad
- 255g (9 oz) cherry tomatoes
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 cups cooked farro
- 1 cup assorted olives pitted
- 3 tbsp capers heaping
- ½ cup fresh parsley coarsely chopped
Za'atar Crusted Chicken Thighs
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- 4 egg whites beaten
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup za'atar
- neutral oil for frying
- lemon wedges for serving
For the Briny Farro Salad
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper and place the tomatoes on top. Drizzle the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt. Place the tomatoes in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
- Place the garlic, anchovies, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt in a mortar and pestle and grind the ingredients to form a paste. Alternatively, you could use a food processor for this.
- Transfer the paste to a bowl and whisk in the remaining olive oil, Dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, place the farro, olives, and capers. Add the tomatoes you roasted earlier and the parsley. Pour the dressing over top and toss to coat. Cover and chill the salad until ready to serve.
For the Chicken Thighs
- Open each chicken thigh up, so it lays flat. Place the thigh on a piece of parchment paper and place another piece of parchment paper over top. Using a kitchen mallet, flatten the chicken until it's 1/4 of an inch thick. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and set aside.
- Place the panko breadcrumbs and za'atar in a pie plate and whisk to combine. Dip the chicken thighs in the egg whites before rolling them in the panko mixture. Transfer the breaded thighs to a plate and set aside.
- Heat an inch of neutral oil (I used canola oil) in a large cast-iron skillet until shimmering. Add 2-3 thighs to the pan and fry until golden on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the thighs to a cooling rack suspended over a baking sheet and immediately sprinkle with additional salt and za'atar. Keep the chicken warm in a low oven until ready to serve. Repeat with the remaining thighs.
- Divide the farro salad across four bowls and top with one or two thighs per bowl. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately with a lemon wedge on the side.