- A yogurt marinade both tenderizes and seasons the chicken thighs.
- Blending the mint into the marinade creates a vibrant green color and produces incredible aroma.
- Gently roasting the chicken thighs preserves the color of the marinade.
- Quick-pickling the stone fruit adds complexity of flavor to the finished plate.
I often use this yogurt marinade at home, and it works equally well with boneless, skinless chicken breasts as it does with the boneless, skinless chicken thighs I call for here. Made from just a few ingredients, it’s quite aromatic and very flavorful, and offers a plethora of sensations, from the cool notes of mint to the warmer flavors provided by the garlic, ginger, chile pepper, and black peppercorns.
Part of why I like this preparation is its color and aroma, and I’ve found that the gentle cooking called for in this recipe helps to preserve the vibrant green of the marinade. While a little browning occurs on the edges of the pieces of chicken, browning and/or charring is not the goal. If you’d like to have your chicken browned a bit more, you can remove the chicken earlier than is called for and then slide the pieces under the broiler to finish cooking while developing a pronounced char, but I find this unnecessary.
You can take advantage of the gentle tenderizing effect of lactic acid in this marinade to plan ahead of time during a busy week. Combine the chicken with the marinade, divide it up into smaller portions in smaller ziptop bags or airtight, freezer-safe containers, and freeze the portions for up to 2 weeks. When ready to use, pull a bag out of the freezer, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and then proceed with the recipe as written.
I like to serve the chicken with quick-pickled nectarines, which take just a few minutes to prepare, although they’re best if you allow them to sit in the spiced honey-and-vinegar mixture for about an hour before serving. Use ripe but firm nectarines; if the fruit is too soft, the combined action of the acid, honey, and salt will make the fruit fall apart quickly. (You can also use other fresh stone fruit, such as peaches or plums. For a stronger kick of heat, double the amount of chile pepper in the recipe.
Editors’ Note: Nik Sharma’s new book, The The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes, comes out in October 2020. You can pre-order it anywhere books are sold.
The Science of Yogurt Marinades
- 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs (1 3/4 pounds; 800g)
- 1 1/2 cups (13 1/2 ounces; 380g) plain unsweetened yogurt (see note)
- 6-7 scallions (3 1/2 ounces; 100g), root ends trimmed and discarded
- 1 packed cup mint leaves and stems (3/4 ounce; 20g)
- 12 whole black peppercorns
- 4 medium garlic cloves (1/2 ounce; 15g), peeled
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30g) grated fresh ginger
- 1 small fresh green chile, such as Serrano or Thai chile
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt, use half as much by volume
- Neutral cooking spray oil, such as canola
- Lemon or lime wedges, for serving
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1/4 cup (60ml) apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) honey
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt, use half as much by volume
- 1 teaspoon red chile flakes, such as Urfa or Aleppo
- 2 ripe but firm yellow nectarines (about 15 ounces; 420g)
- 2 tablespoons picked thyme leaves and very tender stems
To Marinate the Chicken: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, score the top side of the chicken thighs 2 or 3 times, then prick all over with a fork. Place the chicken in a baking dish, ziptop bag, or a food-safe storage container with a lid.
In a blender, combine yogurt, scallions, mint, peppercorns, garlic, ginger, chile, turmeric, and salt. Pulse until very smooth. Pour the yogurt mixture all over the chicken, then gently toss to coat well. Cover the container or seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
To Pickle the Nectarines: Heat a small dry skillet over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds to the hot skillet and toast until the seeds become fragrant and start to darken slightly, about 1 minute. Transfer toasted coriander seeds to a mortar and pestle and crush to a coarse powder.
In a medium bowl, whisk the vinegar, honey, and salt until combined. Stir in the chile flakes and coriander powder.
Cut the nectarines in half and remove and discard the stone. Cut the nectarines into thin segments and add them to the vinegar mixture along with the thyme. Stir to coat the fruit well. Cover with a lid and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day before serving.
To Cook the Chicken: When ready to cook, position oven racks in both the bottom-middle and top-middle positions and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil and spray the foil with a little oil. Spread the marinated thighs over the prepared baking sheets, 4 pieces per sheet. Bake the chicken, switching the positions of the two sheets halfway through cooking, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the thighs and the edges are slightly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken, cover, and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serve the chicken with the pickled nectarines on the side.
Blender or hand-held blender, rimmed baking sheets, instant-read thermometer
If using Greek yogurt, use half as much yogurt and substitute half with water.
The chicken can be frozen in its marinade for up to 2 weeks. The quick-pickled nectarines are best eaten the day they’re made, but they keep for up to 1 day if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.