I am not a patient cook. I use lettuces without washing them because it takes too long, peek into the oven more times than I should when I’m roasting a chicken, and slice into cakes before they’re properly cooled, even when I know better.
But if there is something I am going to take my sweet time with, it’s rendering chicken fat, because that stuff is worth its weight in gold.
And yes, there are lots of fats for cooking — with so many to choose from, who can play favorites? Well, I can play favorites, and chicken fat is my favorite.
It’s not just the deeply savory flavor you get from rendered chicken fat, although that is reason enough to make the effort. The idea that you can extract your own cooking fat from an ingredient as simple as a chicken thigh is something I take great pleasure in; to me, it’s one of the finest DIY moments in cooking. As a bonus, you end up with excellent, crispy-skinned chicken — a true luxury.
Thighs will consistently yield the greatest amount of fat, but bone-in, skin-on breasts will also give you plenty to work with. Maybe it’s counterintuitive, but the chicken must not be seared hot and fast, as you would cook a steak or skin-on fish fillet. Rendering fat takes time, so time we must give it. This means medium heat for a longer period, but your patience will be rewarded with an unscorched pool of impossibly flavorful fat at the bottom of your skillet that nothing from a bottle can compete with.
All this extra time on the stove also suggests that you will not have to finish your chicken in the oven — that it can and should be cooked entirely on the stovetop.
And did I mention there is crispy skin? There is crispy skin.
While I would drink this fat directly from a spoon, that’s not why we are here. We are here to cook with this golden-brown gift, which imparts its chicken-y flavor to any ingredient we choose to grace its presence with. Here, that means tangy slices of lemon, which sizzle and caramelize in the fat, followed by a simple can of white beans to soak it all up.
This dish is infinitely riffable and adaptable, depending on the season and availability of pantry ingredients.
Don’t have white beans? Use chickpeas. Like it spicy? Add a tablespoon of harissa or a few pinches of chili flakes. Going paleo? Leave out the beans, double down on the kale and add a few crushed olives for brininess. With chicken fat to cook in, you can go anywhere.
SKILLET CHICKEN WITH WHITE BEANS AND CARAMELIZED LEMON
By Alison Roman
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
- 1 shallot, peeled and cut into thin wedges
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2-1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or breasts (4 to 6)
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 (15-ounce) can small white beans (such as Great Northern, navy or cannellini) or chickpeas
- 1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves torn into large pieces
- Flaky sea salt, for serving
- Olive oil, for drizzling
Toss lemon slices and shallots together in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper; set aside. (This will lightly pickle the shallot and soften the lemon while you cook the chicken.)
Season chicken with more salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium and add chicken, skin-side down. Using tongs or spatula, press chicken evenly into the skillet to promote browning. Cook, resisting urge to check too frequently, until skin is deeply golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on size of chicken pieces. Most of the fat should be rendered and the skin should be crispy.
Flip and continue to cook until pieces are cooked through, another 7 to 10 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer chicken to a plate to rest, leaving fat behind. Add lemon and shallot to chicken fat, standing back — it will sizzle. Cook, swirling skillet, until lemon has started to caramelize and brown, 3 to 5 minutes. (The mixture will smell like a mix of lemonade and caramel.)
Add beans and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until beans start to brown a bit and soak up all of that caramelized lemony chicken fat, 3 to 4 minutes.
Working in batches, add kale and toss to wilt, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.
Return chicken to skillet, along with any juices that have collected on the plate, and cook a minute or two, just so everything gets to know each other in there.
Divide chicken, beans and kale among plates, making sure to top each serving with a few lemon slices.
Sprinkle with flaky salt and a final few turns of pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.