one-pot chicken with caramelized lemon and dates
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I have written many chicken recipes in my life (have eaten hundreds, likely thousands of chickens) and sure, I think they’re all great, but I’m only human and of course, do have favorites. This recipe for One-Pot Chicken with Caramelized Lemon and Dates is one of them.
Bone-in, skin-on chicken (parts or a whole bird) are seared in a pot (one pot!), lemon slices are caramelized in the chicken fat along with quartered shallots (you can use red onion, too) then dates and thyme are added along with a bit of water to create a little shallow braising liquid to finish cooking the meat. The chicken itself is crispy, juicy and braise-y all at once with a very tangy, salty, sweet, bitter, and chicken-y sauce to bathe in, and honestly, just an absolute dream of a one-pot dinner (did I mention this all happens in one pot? It does!).
This sassy number first appeared in Nothing Fancy, and in my opinion, is one of the best ways to roast a chicken when you’ve exhausted your enthusiasm for simple roast chicken (which--- maybe you haven’t? I don’t blame you). It’s a special chicken (aren’t they all?), feeling more complex and complicated than it is, tasting like it’s got a lot more ingredients than it does.
I modified the recipe that appears in the book to be more *weeknight-friendly* which by, I mean, more quarantine-friendly because no longer are we out of time, per se, we’re mostly just out of a reason to care about anything and the apathy is setting in at record levels and even though the hours are bleeding together and nobody knows what day it is and of course we HAVE the time, maybe you just don't WANT to wait for a whole chicken to roast because who wants to do ANYTHING anymore-- I get that!
So, instead of a whole chicken, this version uses parts. But you can do it either way-- for both recipe options, see below.
As for what to serve it with, because it’s relatively lean and has a nice acidity to it, it could certainly take something on the richer side, like the creamy pasta with pecorino and black pepper or the frizzled chickpeas with onions and feta (both recipes available in Nothing Fancy), or like, a hunk of forgotten bread resurrected in your oven, a simple pot of steamed rice or other grain or some teeny boiled potatoes.
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ONE-POT CHICKEN WITH CARAMELIZED LEMON AND DATES
This one-pot chicken is a true treasure. It’s saucy, sweet, tangy and a little spicy and just downright special. It’s got the kind of bold flavors you wouldn’t expect from such few ingredients, which I guess is part of what makes it special, but it’s also a rather flexible dish, able to be made with a whole chicken or chicken parts (bone-in, skin-on thighs/legs, if you please) for a more weeknight-friendly vibe. The whole lemon slices are meant to impart some bitterness as well as juiciness/tanginess/all the other hits you expect from lemon, so give them a chance, which is to say: please eat them!
1 3 ½ - 4 lb. chicken or 3 lbs. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 lemon, cut into thick slices crosswise (about 1/4” thick), seeds removed
2 shallots, peeled if you want, halved lengthwise (or one red onion, peeled and cut into wedges)
4–6 medjool dates, pitted
4 sprigs thyme or oregano, plus more for serving
1–2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large (at least 5.5 qt) dutch oven over medium–high heat. Place chicken, legs side down* and using tongs or your hands (be careful!) press lightly to make sure the skin comes into even contact with the pot. This is your chance to brown the legs! Rarely offered in whole chicken recipes, so take advantage.
*If using parts, just sear the chicken skin side down, working in batches if you need to.
3. Cook, without moving, until chicken is nice and browned, 5– 8 minutes. Seriously, no peeking! Nothing exciting will happen before 5 minutes, I promise you.
4. Add lemon slices, maneuvering the chicken however you need so that the slices come into contact with the bottom of the pot.
*If using parts, you may need to remove the chicken so that you can get the lemon slices nicely browned.
5. Let the lemons sizzle in the chicken fat until caramelized on one side, about 2 minutes. Add shallots, dates, thyme and 2 cups of water. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with crushed red pepper flakes and place the lid on.
*If using parts, you can leave the lid off.
6. Place dutch oven in the oven and roast until the dates are plump, the lemon is jammy and the chicken is almost but not totally cooked through, 20–25 minutes (it will look mostly cooked through and a little anemic from getting covered with the lid).
*If using parts, the chicken will be done now, no need to keep roasting.
7. Remove the lid and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by ½ and the top of the chicken has an illustrious golden-brown color, another 20–25 minutes.
8. Remove from oven and let chicken rest in the dutch oven for 10 minutes before transferring it to a cutting board and carving. Serve alongside shallots, lemons, and dates with some more thyme sprinkled over.
DO AHEAD: This chicken can be made a few hours ahead, kept in the dutch oven. If you wish to reheat it before serving, pop it back into the oven without a lid for 10–15 minutes or so.