Cast Iron chicken (also known as skillet chicken) is one of my favorite things to make in part because it is a single skillet meal. There are infinite versions of this just by changing up the sauce and the vegetables. I will have plenty of cast iron skillet recipes to share with you over time, so make sure to check out the ‘cast iron chicken' tag on That Zest Life. First up is a cumin chicken version where you caramelize onion and whole garlic cloves in a skillet with the chicken and then top with chimichurri. It's savory and bright with a nice creaminess from the whole roasted garlic.
The Basics of Cast Iron Chicken
Cast Iron Chicken is the best way to get a golden brown crispy skin with a tender moist fully cooked chicken underneath. Gone are the days of blackened skin with a raw bird or a perfectly cooked chicken with a chewy piece of skin (gross). The basics of this technique is to:
- Sear the chicken in a cast iron skillet on both sides (keep skin face up afterwards).
- Add whatever veggies you want to the pan.
- Add chicken stock to the skillet (avoiding touching the beautiful crispy skin).
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the liquid is gone.
Once you have the basics of this down you can pretty much make any variation that you can come up with. I've done a mushroom and sundried tomato with cream sauce version, and a summer corn version in the past just to give you an idea. Chicken is one of my favorite things to cook in a cast iron skillet and the best part is you can make this every single week, but give it different flavors each time. Keep your kids happy and vary up your meal prep while keeping the same basic (and cheap ingredients).
But what if I don't have a cast iron skillet?
No worries! You can still make this using an oven safe skillet like this one from Cuisinart. However, you can get a great and cheap cast iron pan! Lodge makes really affordable pans in all sizes, and I really like their 12 inch cast iron skillet. Personally I have a 11 & ¾ inch Le Creuset that my grandmother gave me years ago. There are a few differences between the two. The Le Creuset has an enamel coating on the outside, which I don't think makes a huge difference, and it is also a much smoother surface which I do prefer.
How to Make a Delicious Chimichurri
What is chimichurri made of?
Or maybe your first question is, what even is chimichurri? You can think of it like a latin version of pesto. It's a great topping for meat because it gives you this gorgeous contrast of savory, smokey meat to bright and fresh herb blend. There are honestly a lot of ways you can make a version of chimichurri. Typically the dominant flavors are garlic, oil, and parsley. If you're looking to make your own version start with those ingredients as your base and add in complementary flavors to the rest of your dish.
My inspiration for this dish comes from this sous vide cookbook. The version you'll find here is done with a flank steak as a carne asada. That dish is delicious and I highly recommend it, but flank steak really isn't my jam. I was looking for a bowl of chicken and rice with some spice and a great sauce. Plus, any time I can break out my food processor I'm excited.
My own version calls for cilantro, because it tastes very fresh to me. I wanted that freshness, an almost salsa like feel, while not being super spicy or feeling like an actual salsa. You won't find tomatoes here. One thing you will find is a decent amount of roasted garlic and some raw shallots. While you can use raw garlic, I have found that the bite of raw garlic is just way too much for me. Roasted adds a great depth to the dish to combat the brightness of the parsley and cilantro.
What if I don't like cilantro?
No problem! Just double the parsley and use that with the chicken instead. Or swap it out basil and coat the chicken in thyme instead for a more Italian style. You could make it a bit more traditionally as well and stick to the basics: garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and parsley. I don't think you're going to miss out on too much (especially if cilantro tastes like soap to you).
Caramelizing the Vegetables and Chicken
Personally one of my favorite parts of this dish is how beautifully the onions and garlic caramelize. It is SO simple and so beautiful. The pictures that show you the dish in the cast iron skillet are what emerges with NO stirring and NO fussing. Just make sure that you get the vegetables coated with a bit of broth and sort of submerged. But not too much or it will take ages to reduce down. If you keep the vegetable dry they will burn way before the chicken is ready. Don't worry though! It's pretty hard to mess up.
In terms of the chicken itself, don't be afraid to crowd the pan with chicken thighs! I just use an entire package from the store since it's just me which usually has 3-4 chicken thighs in them. If yours has more, don't worry and don't change the recipe. Sear as normal, you just may have a harder time squeezing in vegetables. Also, you can totally use chicken breast here. I just really don't like chicken breast and prefer dark meat. White meat is really easy to overcook and dark meat is much more forgiving!
Now you may be wondering how to keep chicken from sticking to a cast iron pan. The key here is a hot pan that is well seasoned, and time. When the chicken is sufficiently seared it should release from the pan. If you pull off the chicken thighs and some skin stays behind, don't worry! When you add the stock to the pan take you spatula and use the liquid to "deglaze the pan". It will just make everything taste better!
Tips on How to Make the Perfect Chicken
In order to make this even easier and more perfect for a throw together meal, I not only keep packages of chicken laying around, but I also freeze my Chicken Bone Broth into ½ cup pucks by using a silicone muffin tin. I really like this one because you can pick it up without putting it on another surface. One the broth is frozen, pop them out into a gallon bag and then any time you want cast iron chicken it's easy to just throw a couple of pucks into the pan! I don't own a microwave so I don't even defrost them. Just throw them in around the chicken right before I put the skillet in the oven. Head over to my bone broth recipe to read more about why you need to make your own!
In the meantime, I hope that you love this as much as I did. There are many more cast iron chicken dishes to come so get comfortable with this technique! It's one of my favorites and you're going to want to do it all the time. Comment below or show me on social media what you think! Keep living that zest life y'all!
Cumin Chicken with Roasted Garlic Chimichurri
- Large oven safe pan
For the Chicken
- 4-6 whole chicken thighs, patted dry with a paper towel
- ¼ cup cumin, to taste
- 1 whole onion, sliced
- 6-10 whole garlic cloves
- 2 whole limes, juiced
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- ½ cup chicken broth
For the Chimichurri
- ½ cup fresh Italian parsley
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 3 whole roasted garlic cloves
- 1 whole shallot
- 1 whole red chili pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ cup fresh cilantro
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp black pepper
For the Rice
- 2 cups cooked rice
- 1 whole zested and juiced lime
- ¼ cup cilantro
For the Chicken
- Preheat oven to 450 and place large cast iron pan or oven safe skillet over medium high heat.
- Pat dry chicken and liberally season with salt and cumin. Massage into chicken and let rest for at least 10 minutes.
- Add 2 tbls oil with a high smoke point (like avocado) to the pan. Place chicken skin side down and sear for 5 minutes then flip and sear for another 5 minutes.
- Nest sliced onion and garlic cloves around the chicken. Add lime juice, cilantro, and chicken broth, being careful not to pour on top of crispy skin. Place into oven for 20-30 minutes, until chicken is cooked and liquid is absorbed.
For the Chimichurri
- One the chicken is in the oven, add all ingredients for the chimichurri into a food processor and pulse until well blended. Refrigerate.
For the Rice
- Cook rice per instructions on package. One cooked, mix with remaining ingredients and let cook slightly in the pan until lime juice is absorbed.
- Serve chicken and onions over rice and top with chimichurri.
If you make this recipe, be sure to tag @thatzestlife in your photo! I would love to see what you made!
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