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Lynda Balslev: Cool off with fiery food

Lynda Balslev
Columnist

It may sound counterintuitive, but when the weather is hot, the spices should be hotter. Think about it: Many cultures that infuse their cuisine with chiles and spice are warm-weather countries. Sure, many of these five-alarm ingredients are native to their environment, but the simple fact is that spicy food is cooling. It makes you sweat, which is your body’s sensible method of adjusting its thermostat.

This recipe is my attempt to confront a sweltering day with a plate of fiery food. Chicken thighs are great for roasting and grilling. The dark meat is rich, moist and flavorful, and it can easily handle a wallop of heat and spice. Plus, the juicy meat won’t dry out while you cook the thighs to crispy perfection.

The heat in this recipe is largely due to the fresh red jalapeno peppers, where it lies in the peppers’ seeds and membranes. I’ll leave it up to you as to how much of the hot parts you remove, but I encourage you to keep at least some of it. Jalapenos can vary in spice from pepper to pepper, so be brave and take a tiny bite of each pepper to know what you’re working with and adjust accordingly. And remember when handling the seeds and membranes of spicy peppers to use a paring knife or gloved hands to protect your fingers from the heat.

The good news is that these spicy thighs are easy to make. All you need to do is blitz the marinade ingredients in a food processor, which is my favorite way to make a multi-ingredient marinade with no fussy chopping or prepping required. Then, thoroughly coat the chicken, including under the skin if possible (remember those gloves!) and let the chicken marinate for up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, simply fire up the chicken on the grill or roast in the oven. Easy, right? It should be. After all, it’s bleeping hot outside, and you don’t want to exert yourself.

Many cultures that infuse their cuisine with chiles and spice are warm-weather countries.

Chili-Chili Chicken Thighs

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Active Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes, plus marinating time

Yield: Serves 4

Marinade:

2 red jalapeno peppers

1 large roasted red pepper, drained if jarred, peeled and seeded if fresh, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves

1/4 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon

8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin

Fresh thyme for garnish

Halve the jalapeno peppers. If desired, remove some of the seeds and the membranes with a paring knife or gloved hands (or be brave and skip this step!). Coarsely chop the jalapenos and add to the bowl of a food processor. Add all of the remaining marinade ingredients and process to blend.

Place the chicken thighs in a large bowl or a large resealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade over and turn to thoroughly coat the chicken. Cover the bowl or seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees or prepare a grill for indirect cooking over medium heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess.

If oven-roasting, arrange on a grill pan. Transfer to the middle rack of the oven and roast until the skin is golden and beginning to crisp and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted in the thickest part closest to the bone, about 30 minutes. Turn on the oven broiler for the last 1 to 2 minutes of cooking to further darken the skin.

If using a grill, arrange the chicken, skin side up, over indirect heat. Grill until the skin is golden and beginning to crisp and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted in the thickest part closest to the bone, about 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Transfer the chicken to a platter and season with additional salt and pepper and garnish with fresh thyme.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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