It’s always a good idea to have a few back-pocket ideas for weeknight dinners. You know the kind of meals you can make on the fly and turn out tasty every time. For me, that’s always pan-fried chicken thighs made in my cast-iron skillet served up with a side salad and roasted potatoes. It’s a simple combination, but it’s satisfying and easy to customize with different spice blends and fresh herbs.
And making pan-fried chicken thighs is really simple. Just grab your favorite skillet and a few basic ingredients.
How to Make Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs
For me, I like this recipe that comes from Sarah Campbell of Terre Haute, Indiana. It’s a great base for all kinds of suppers.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 4 bone-in chicken thighs (about 1-1/2 pounds)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/3 cup dry red wine
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
Are you looking to upgrade your cookware? Our Test Kitchen-approved pre-seasoned cast-iron skillet ($23) is ideal for making tasty dinners just like this one. It’s easy-pour spouts make it ideal for drizzling red wine sauce straight from skillet to dish.
Step 1: Cook the chicken
Making a pan-seared chicken is simple. Start by heating up the butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat. I like to use my cast iron skillet as often as possible, but your favorite frying pan will work, too.
While the pan is heating, season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. For me, fresh-ground pepper makes all the difference. You can also add extra seasoning here if you like, but there’s nothing wrong with just the basics here.
Place the chicken skin side down into the pan. You’ll hear a nice sizzle. The point here is to create a nice, crispy skin. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for five or so minutes. Then flip the chicken over and cook another five to ten minutes—until the internal temperature reads 165º F (the food-safe temperature for poultry). Use an instant-read thermometer to do this. Once the chicken is at the right temperature, remove from the pan.
Editor’s tip: You can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs with this recipe as well. You’ll miss out on the crispy skin, but they cook faster.
Step 2: Finish with a sauce
You can serve up these skillet chicken thighs as-is and they’re delicious, but just a few extra minutes at the stove gives you a great sauce.
To make the sauce, add wine and garlic to the pan along with all the drippings. Stir to loosen up all the brown bits at the bottom (this is called fond). Cook this for one to two minutes or until the wine has reduced by half. Then stir in the cream, bring up to a boil and cook two minutes more—just until the sauce is thickened up. Spoon over the chicken and serve.
Editor’s tip: You can use a dry white wine here, too. Whatever you have on hand will work just fine. And if you need to finish off a bottle (and don’t feel like drinking it with dinner), these recipes that call for wine.
Bone-in or Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs?
Using bone-in or boneless, skinless chicken thighs is all a personal preference. I’ll tell you to opt for bone-in every time (but I just love the crispy skin!). No matter what you pick, though, chicken thighs are a great deal at the store. Here are a few arguments for both camps:
Bone-in chicken thighs
Bone-in chicken tends to be more inexpensive, pound for pound compared to the boneless option. This is definitely the cut to pick if you’re being mindful of your spending.
Beyond price, bone-in chicken thighs are a bit different to cook. They tend to take longer to cook thanks to the bone, but the bone also helps the chicken remain juicier. With this pan-frying technique, you also get crispy chicken skin which is a pretty tasty indulgence.
Calorie-wise, this skin adds about 20 calories per serving according to the National Chicken Council. This isn’t too significant, but worth noting.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are a good option to consider when you’re tight on time. Boneless thighs cook up quicker. They also can dry out more quickly. Be mindful to check the temperature on boneless, skinless thighs a bit sooner than the recipe calls for just to ensure you don’t overcook it.
What Sides Go with Chicken Thighs?
Chicken thighs are a great suppertime staple because they’re so versatile. While my go-to sides are a green veggie and roasted potatoes, you can really try so many chicken side dishes. Try a fresh salad, potatoes, homemade (or shortcut) rolls or a great roasted vegetable.
If you ask me, there’s no better quick dinner than chicken thighs and some easy sides. Chances are I’ll be making them tonight.