Dinner Tonight: Mark Bittman's Grilled Mediterranean Chicken Thighs

Dinner Tonight

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[Photograph: Blake Royer]

When I went into my backyard to grill the chicken thighs for this recipe from Mark Bittman, I ran into a neighbor who was cooking some steaks at the same time. He took one look at my chicken and started shaking his head. "Chicken is so hard to cook well, I never grill it." And it struck me then that a lot of people probably feel that way.

Why I Picked This Recipe: I found this recipe in the New York Times Country Weekend Cookbook, and picked it because it's grilling season and the flavors looked wonderful. An herb paste of parsley, rosemary, thyme, and lavender (the last ingredient is optional, but gives it a floral South of France kind of flavor) is tucked under the skin with a bay leaf, and as the chicken slowly grills, it perfumes the meat.

What Worked: Bittman's technique here is solid (and works for any recipe for grilled bone-in chicken). After seasoning the meat, the grill is preheated with a two-zone method of hot and warm (accomplished by either banking coals on one side or turning on half the gas burners). The chicken starts skin-side up on the cooler part of the grill unti the fat begins to render, then gets flipped skin-side down and coasts slowly to doneness (patience is key). With the skin-side down, the meat is protected from drying out too much, and once the chicken is about ready, you simply move it over the coals or hot side to cook the skin into a mouthwatering crispness. The result is juicy, golden, crisp chicken.

What Didn't: Bittman also called for stashing a bay leaf under the skin, but it was frustrating to remove after cooking and I didn't think it added too much.

Suggested Tweaks: The recipe needs a little balance and brightness, and Bittman calls for serving with wedges of lemon. But the zest of a lemon grated into the herb paste would be a nice variation on this recipe, either instead of or in addition to the lemon wedges.

Adapted from New York Times Country Weekend Cookbook.