Pan fried chicken thighs. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Two things of note here: the technique called pan-fry and the awesome chicken thigh.

The latter should be your go-to chicken part. How and why chicken mongers can get away with selling the boneless, skinless chicken breast is beyond me. Then again, why anyone would buy skim milk is beyond me. I love bone-in, skin-on thighs but am delighted that the boned version is available as well. I recommend slicing it thinly for stir-fries, in chunks for chicken stews (curries, fricassee). It’s a well-worked muscle and therefore flavorful (and chewy); it’s also got some fat and is therefore juicy.

Not long ago my son James, chewing on a fried chicken drumstick, wondered if we couldn’t have boneless fried chicken, so that he could, I imagine, revel in the unalloyed pleasure of fried chicken—crispy flavorful exterior, succulent, chickeny interior.

So that’s what I made last night, mixing up a big batch of seasoned flour to keep in the freezer as needed (though you can simply use flour and pepper; see link for rosemary-brined chicken below for seasoned flour mix); I brined the thighs for a few hours in a rosemary brine (not essential, but I was home and had time); for the liquid, I whisked milk into Greek yogurt till I had a thick consistency (I don’t buy “buttermilk” anymore since it’s not really buttermilk).

And instead of deep-frying the chicken, which uses a lot of oil, I pan-fried them, using about a quarter inch of oil in a cast iron skillet. Ideally, with the pan-fry technique, you use just enough oil so that when the meat is in the pan, the oil comes exactly halfway up the sides of the meat. It’s a great technique for chicken, or anything breaded, such as pork chops. Below is the simplified version, though feel free to adapt the more in-depth rosemary-brined fried chicken here (which I first published in Ruhlman’s Twenty) to the boneless skinless thigh.

Chicken thighs, seasoned flour, thinned yogurt; at right, browned and ready to finish in the oven/photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

 

Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs

  • 4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • ½ cup milk (or as needed)
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • vegetable oil as needed
  1. Preheat your oven to 250˚F.
  2. Season the chicken thighs with salt.
  3. Combine the flour and pepper in a bowl and stir to distribute the pepper.
  4. Whisk the milk into the yogurt until you have a smooth, viscous liquid, about the consistency of the fake buttermilk sold in stores.
  5. Dip each thigh in the flour mixture, then into the yogurt mixture, then into the flour mixture again.
  6. Heat about a quarter inch of oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil is very hot (just before smoking), lay the chicken pieces in. When they are nicely browned on one side, two or three minutes, flip them. When they are uniformly browned, drain the oil from the skillet (keeping the chicken pieces in the skillet), and put the skillet in the oven for up to 30 minutes while you finish the side dishes (last night, a weeknight, it was mashed potatoes and green beans for us).

Serves 4

If you liked this post, check out these other links:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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46 Wonderful responses to “Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs”

  • MikeA

    Can you elaborate on the comment about buttermilk in stores being fake?

    • James Hudson

      Traditional buttermilk was the remains of the butter making process. Modern buttermilk is cultured with an enzime to create lactic acid and ferment non-fat milk to mimic the characteristics of buttermilk

      • Matthew

        If you’ve ever made butter from fresh cream, you know the left over “buttermilk” has little in common with buttermilk. I’m pretty sure traditional buttermilk would have been soured, as butter has traditionally been a cultured product as well.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      yes, what james said. Though I believe it’s skim milk with enzymes and thickeners.

      • Aaron

        Is the milk/Greek yogurt concoction a viable substitute for buttermilk in other applications as well?

      • Janeen

        Yes, what they said. The only time I buy it it to make Creme Fraiche when I don’t’ have any other cultures on hand. 1 tablespoon of it in a pint of our Jersey cream set on the counter for a day. Wish I didn’t have to by a litre just to get one TBSP :)

      • Dachicken Farmer

        It’s cultured, so it’s bacterial – ingredients in my store bought buttermilk are …. “cultured lowfat (1%) milk”, so basically like yogurt, but a different strain – no thickeners, “Enzimes”, etc, other than those produced by the bacteria

  • Rich Taylor

    The yogurt and milk idea is a great one. How does the pH compare to the buttermilk in the grocery store? For example, could I use that mixture in biscuits or other things that traditionally include buttermilk? Would it have the acidity to activate the baking soda? If so, it sure sounds like a big flavor improvement.

  • Carolyn Z

    Just wanted to mention that the RSS feed you are using works well in NetNewsWire. A continuation from the previous blog.

  • Garrett

    Michael–Have you ever tried powdered buttermilk? It’s made from real buttermilk and has a long shelf life. SACO is the brand.

  • Cheryl

    I substitute Greek yogurt for buttermilk in my scone and biscuit recipes and it works great. I’ve even used it in a chocolate cake recipe with perfect results. Growing up with a Southern mother, I wouldn’t think of making chicken any other way than in a cast iron skillet. And, when done properly, like above, it’s never greasy. Michael, is vegetable oil always your pick?

  • pjkobulnicky

    I almost wish there was a site that one could go to for current sources of real buttermilk. I snap it up any chance I can (unless I am flying, damn).

    And a second here on thighs. The best part of the bird.

  • Heather C.

    Chicken thighs are the standard in our house. My kids LOVE them: “What’s for dinner?” “Chicken thighs.” “YES!!!!” I’ll just season them and put them in a skillet; when it’s nice out, they are so easy to grill. I’ll have to fry them like this – I’m sure it will be a hit!

    • Sandy Leatham

      Whey is not a lot like buttermilk. BUT it is FANTASTIC to make bread with. It makes really excellent bread. Also fattens pigs well. And is good for your skin, i.e. to bathe in.

  • Aaron

    Any particular reason for removal of the skin from the thighs in this recipe?

    • ruhlman

      they’re sold skinless. what they do with the skin, i don’t know but I hope someone is making schmaltz.

      • Karen Hollings

        Sean Brock at Husk in Charleston has offered a fried chicken skin appetizer. You should try it while visiting.

  • Laura Jane

    I would also like to know more about substituting the greek yogurt/milk combination for buttermilk in baked goods (with respect to pH, acidity, etc.).

  • Patricia

    Janeen.. What I do is freeze leftover cultured buttermilk in icecube trays then move to plaztic bags in the freezer. I can remove ever how much I need for a recipe or use it to culture more if needed. I hope that helps!

  • Asli

    I live overseas where there is no buttermilk, fake or otherwise. I use the yogurt/milk trick in every situation buttermilk is called for. It always works perfectly. The chicken looks fabulous!

  • Lisa Cubbon

    I get buttermilk (the real kind) from my dairyman that the farmer’s market. It’s fabulous.

  • Carolyn Z

    One more comment. I like the newer head photo above. Please change it everywhere, especially twitter and facebook.

  • Judi

    Being from Atlanta, I always feel that I have a “leg” up on the art of frying chicken. In our home, my Mom was the Fry Queen. She would never consider frying chicken in a deep fryer. It was fried using this method, but with a buttermilk brine. You could count on real buttermilk back then. Her pan gravy was the Best!! Thanks for the reminder to make some fried chicken soon!

  • James O.

    So…. the “Buttermilk” thing:

    I’ll occasionally make butter in the food processor when I’ve got cream close to the expiry date (extending the useful life of the product), and I’ll end up with real honest-to-God buttermilk. And I’m happy to see your milk + greek yogurt replacement.

    Given the ubiquity of the fake ‘buttermik’ / liquid cheese product, most recipies these days seem to assume you’re using that product rather than ‘real’ buttermilk. The buttermilk I make is quite a bit thinner overall (aside from the odd flake of butter floating in it), than said ‘product’.

    Because of the consistency difference, I’m not sure one can use a straight exchange of buttermilk for ‘product’. Or even buttermilk and the milk+yogurt mix. Or can you?

    Do we need to do some volume or weight conversion between buttermilk and the store-bought liquid cheese, if we want to use our own buttermilk?

  • John C. Lowe

    I forgot to ask, will there still be a “Friday Cocktail”?

  • Annie

    This boneless recipe will be music to my husband. He hates eating food that requires him to actually work and remove bones.

  • A2 Brett

    Tried this last night, adding a little dried rosemary to the milk/yogurt and a little dried thyme to the flour. Great fried chicken! Crispy, flavorful, moist on the inside. I don’t eat fried anything often, but I’ll use this if I want fried chicken (or maybe even fish?).

  • Thom Thompson

    Buttermilk available at the average supermarket in Chicago is made by the addition of specific bacteria into milk akin to how yogurt is made. It is no more to be avoided than yogurt. It is conceivable that there are additional “thickeners” in some brands of buttermilk but I haven’t seen it around here and I don’t think that it would much enhance the supermarket stuff. Yogurt can also be thickened with other additives, though, again, it doesn’t normally need it. Michael, your milk and greek yogurt combination is probably higher in fat than buttermilk but lower in acid than buttermilk. (The acid in the buttermilk would help tenderize both the chicken and the crust.) The product can simply be called “cultured buttermilk” to avoid confusion with the butter-making byproduct.

  • KimNB

    Thanks for the pan frying tutorial. Fried chicken is one of the few things I cook that doesn’t turn out well (well there was also that horrible curried goat) and I will give this a try. While I have come to appreciate chicken legs more than I used to I will always maintain, that to me at least, that no chicken leg will ever be tastier than a well prepared chicken breast.

  • Ben

    Great flavor–I used the seasoned flour recipe–and very easy. I used regular yogurt and milk b/c my nearby grocer doesn’t carry plain Greek yogurt. While they were crunchy overall, there were, as with Meghan’s attempt, some gooey spots. I think this is because I didn’t whisk the liquid thoroughly enough. Next time (this was so good I put it on the menu this week as well) I’ll use a boat motor for the liquid. Thanks for posting this!

  • Joanne

    Made it, ate it, damn near stole the last morsel from my husband’s fork. It was that good!

    Thanks for the recipe and keep em coming!

  • Ike

    Made this pairing and it was ABSOLUTELY amazing. Highly recommend brining the thighs in a simply rosemary and garlic brine for 2 hours. this recipe is great! will do again.

  • Samantha

    Made this tonight and it was so dreamy I’m still thinking about it. Marinated the thighs in rosemary, garlic and meyer lemon zest before breading. And served it with a quick agrodolce sauce of sauteed sliced red onion, a little vermouth, lemon juice, and honey. A mess of sautéed kale counterbalanced the fried chicken, which, IMHO makes the whole meal fit for a spot in the rotation. Thank you!

  • Chuck McLean

    Good Lord! Finally got around to trying this tonight. So damn good! I put a couple of tablespoons of finely grated Parm Reg and two teaspoons of dried rosemary in the flour. I needed maybe half as much flour mixture as Ruhlman indicated. The next time, I will do it the same way, but put half of the flour in the freezer, like he suggests. Because we will be doing this again soon, for damn sure. BTW, you can get a whole bunch of organic, humanely raised boneless chicken thighs at your local Costco, if you have one. I always have some in the freezer.. Each packet has 4-6 boneless thighs. I’m with you, Michael – to hell with chicken breast, unless it comes off of a roasted chicken.