North African-Spiced Chicken Thighs with Oranges, Marcona Almonds, & Summer Vegetables
Crispy, chicken thighs, as of late, are fast becoming one of my favorite weeknight meals. I cycle through trends in cooking like a lot of people and I just can’t resist how easy and fulfilling these are. I’ve tried countless different spice blends and ways of cooking them (my friends and husband are partial to my Cajun ones…) but I love the flavor in these North African-inspired ones.
The technique I use here is a go to – crisp the thighs, cook the vegetables in the flavored chicken fat, layer the chicken back on top, throw it all in the oven and prep a salad, make the table or do whatever else you need to do! The result is beautifully, tender chicken with really flavorful vegetables. I love this method.
The North African blend here is called ras el hanout. I’ll write more about this later this week but think of it like a Moroccan curry. The roasted cumin powder – white cumin seeds I toast up in a pan before grinding to a powder – creates a lovely, smoky undertone. The cinnamon adds a bit of sweetness, the black pepper rounds it out, and I love the gentle aroma of the saffron here. When these spices mingle with the julienned zucchini and squash, the natural sweetness in the vegetables really come through, highlighted by the orange slices and zest. The almonds plump and add a nutty bite. When the season warms a bit I like to throw in some gorgeous grape or cherry tomatoes as well….Enjoy!
Serves 4 to 6
4 or 5 zucchini or summer squash, julienned
1½ – 1¾ tsp salt
2 lbs chicken thighs, skin-on with bone (4 to 6 thights)
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin, toasted*
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp unsalted butter
2 tsps vegetable oil
1 onion, julienned or finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup raw, unsalted marcona almonds, toasted
small bunch of thyme
5 or 6 thin slices of orange (~1/4 of an orange)
1 tsp orange zest
Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 400° F and place the rack on the top shelf.
For the zucchini, I like to use my mandoline fitted with the julienne attachment. You can also use a food processor or quite simply a knife to do this. In a large bowl, mix together the julienned zucchini / squash with ½ to ¾ teaspoon of salt and place in a colander over a bowl or in the sink. You want to remove as much water as possible, so let sit for 15 minutes and then wring out the vegetables using a kitchen towel, paper towels and your hands.
Let the chicken thighs come up to room temperature. Mix together the paprika, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, ground ginger, black pepper, cayenne, saffron and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Season chicken thighs on both sides with the spice blend – I personally add a bit more salt than this but I want to leave it up to you how salty you want these. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add butter and oil and place thighs skin-side down in the pan. Let cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the skin turns crisp. Be careful not to let the heat creep up too high or the spices will burn. Flip thighs and let cook another 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and pour off excess fat. Add onions and garlic with a bit more salt to draw out the moisture and cook for a minute. Switch off heat and add julienned zucchini, almonds and thyme and toss together. Layer slices of orange around the outside of the pan and place the thighs on top of the bed of vegetables. Sprinkle with orange zest and place on the top rack of the oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes (until the juices run clear out of the chicken.
Serve chicken thighs hot with a side of the vegetables.
Note: The thighs should stay crisp but this depends on how much moisture is coming off the vegetables. If not, I have in the past popped them back in a clean sauté pan with a bit of oil for a minute over medium-high heat to crisp them back up.
*For this blend, I like to take whole cumin seeds and toast them in a pan over a low flame until they deepen in color and are fragrant. I then grind this to a powder.