Three Winning Recipes: Chef’s Tips for Chicken Thighs and Legs

Chicken legs

Ask Chef Phyllis:

I confess that I buy chicken breasts at the supermarket each and every week. I bake them, grill them, smother them in cream of mushroom soup, and overcook them in every way possible. I’m tired of them. I never buy whole chickens anymore, or other parts of the chicken except for wings to serve at my husband’s Super Bowl party. I see huge packages of chicken thighs and legs in the meat counter, but I don’t have any ideas for cooking them outside of grilling or barbequing. Ho-Hum! Can you give me any suggestions to change our very dull eating habits?
—Helene Aaronson from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

In America, the amount of chicken we use every week for dinner has doubled since 1970. Most grocery stores typically feature boneless, skinless chicken breasts, so you’re not alone with your supermarket purchases. I receive many letters from women telling me that they routinely cook chicken breasts at least twice a week and ignore the other chicken parts, as you do. The thighs and legs are usually sold bone-in and skin on, but boneless thighs are gaining in popularity. For good reason—dark meat chicken prepared with the skin on remains juicy, whether it’s cooked in the oven or even overcooked on the grill. And it’s extremely versatile. As a popular television cook said, “Chicken thighs are ever so forgiving and economical too.” Now there’s a truth!

Here are three very easy winning recipes that bring this affordable meat back into the limelight, with a focus on different spices and sauces that completely change the taste of each dish. You can adapt these recipes for the grill by changing the cooking time to one hour, but always test for the recommended USDA internal temperature of 165°F for poultry. The skin will be crispy at 400 degrees, but for extra crispy skin, I suggest broiling the thighs and legs in the oven or on the grill for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Mexicali Chicken Thighs and Legs

The spices in this recipe are the same ingredients you’ll find in taco seasoning, but I prefer to make my own.

Serves 4–6


  • 12 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs or legs, in any combination you prefer
  • 1 (14 oz.) jar organic diced tomatoes with jalapeños (I use Eden Organic)
  • ¼ cup peanut or olive oil
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
  • 1 teaspoon each sea salt, black pepper, ground cumin, coriander, ground garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, and Mexican oregano
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 oz. tequila (optional)
  • 2 avocados, sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • Cultured sour cream (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 13×9-inch ovenproof casserole or stainless steel roasting pan.
  2. Wash chicken pieces under cool water, pat dry with a paper towel, and season with sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix diced tomatoes, peanut or olive oil, chopped garlic, dried onion flakes, and spices. Add lime zest, lime juice, and tequila (if using). Mix well.
  4. Place the chicken in the pan, thighs skin side up. Evenly pour the tomato and spice mixture over the chicken so all of the pieces are covered.
  5. Bake for 35–40 minutes. For extra crispy skin, place the chicken under a broiler set to high for 3 minutes.
  6. Serve on a large platter garnished with avocado slices, chopped cilantro, and sour cream.

Asian Sesame Chicken Thighs and Legs


  • 12 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs and legs, in any combination
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup organic soy sauce
  • ½ cup sesame oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Juice of 1 orange (for about 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice)
  • ½ cup sesame seeds
  • Hot Chinese mustard (I use Coleman’s English dry mustard powder mixed with water)
  • Super Easy Plum Sauce (recipe follows)


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 13×9-inch casserole.
  2. Wash chicken pieces under cool water and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan set over low heat, combine honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, orange zest, and orange juice. Cook until smooth. Turn off heat. Add sesame seeds and mix well.
  4. Place the chicken pieces in the pan, making sure the thighs are skin side up. Pour the sauce evenly over the chicken, coating each piece well.
  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
  6. Serve with plum sauce and your favorite hot Chinese mustard.

Super Easy Plum Sauce


  • 3 fresh, unpeeled dark red or black plums, pitted
  • ½ cup honey (or less, depending on taste)
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 tablespoon butter


Liquefy plums in a small food processor. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan set over low heat. Cook until smooth and pourable, about 5 minutes. To adjust the consistency, add another tablespoon of water if necessary. Serve alongside hot Chinese mustard as a dipping sauce for Asian Sesame Chicken.

Mediterranean Style Chicken Thighs and Legs


  • 12 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs and legs, in any combination
  • 1 (10 oz.) jar green basil pesto (I use Simply Organic or Classico Organic)
  • 1 (10 oz.) jar red pepper pesto (I use Classico Organic)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
    Black olives, sliced
    Green olives, sliced
    ½ cup pine nuts or sliced almonds
  • Special equipment: pastry brush


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 13×9-inch casserole.
  2. Wash and dry the chicken pieces. Place them in the casserole. Using the pastry brush, coat half of the chicken with green basil pesto and the other half with red pepper pesto. Drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, pressing to adhere to the pesto if necessary.
  4. Bake for 35–40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (165°F with a meat thermometer).
  5. Let rest for 5 minutes. Remove to a platter. For the chicken with green basil pesto, sprinkle with black olives. For the chicken with red pepper pesto, sprinkle with green olives.
  6. Garnish with the pine nuts or sliced almonds and serve with a leafy green salad.

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To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

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