This recipe for Smothered Chicken Thighs in Onion Gravy breaks the mold, or the skillet as the case may be!
Typically, anything served with gravy falls solidly into the “comfort food” category and has a perception of being super fatty, is often served with something fried, and nearly always unhealthy.
These chicken thighs are sure to shake things up! To lighten up this comfort food classic, I pan-seared skinless chicken thighs that had been lightly coated in flour and cooked with a minimal amount of oil.
This is old-style cooking that is more down-home diner than dinner party, and great for a simple, inexpensive, and fairly healthy weeknight supper. Pair it with steamed green beans or broccoli plus a side of rice or a mixed vegetable mash to make it a complete meal.
All About Braising
Julia Child supposedly once said, “If you understand the technique, you don’t need a recipe.” Now, most of us aren’t going to be Julia Child in the kitchen, but the good news is that we’re going to be tackling one of the easiest techniques to master—braising.
Braising harnesses the power of both dry and wet heat, with a high heat sear followed by gentle cooking in a flavorful, aromatic broth that makes its own gravy. The chicken thighs are dusted in seasoned flour, a sauce is made, and the chicken simmers in the sauce in the oven. And that’s a braise!
Swaps and Substitutions
You can also use bone-in chicken breast for this dish, but the quantity and cook time of the chicken will vary slightly. You’ll want to use 4 bone-in breasts and cook them for 15 to 20 minutes.
If you wanted to use boneless skinless breasts or thighs (you could), but I am going to warn you it simply won’t be as good—cooking meat on the bone always tastes better. If you go the boneless skinless route reduce the cook time to 10 to 15 minutes and because of this, the gravy won’t cook as long and may be a little thin.
Here are a few other swaps and subs you can make in this dish:
- Use Creole seasoning or your favorite seasoning salt in place of onion powder.
- If you can’t find smoked paprika, using regular paprika works too.
- If you don’t have fresh thyme, feel free to leave it out.
- Use a dried bay leaf instead of fresh.
Gravy: The Secret Sauce
The gravy in this dish is made in the same skillet as the chicken with the all-purpose flour acting as the thickening agent. You can also use white whole wheat flour if you have that in your pantry.
To make gluten-free gravy: Chickpea or garbanzo flour (aka “besan” if you are shopping at an Indian market) or fava bean flour are great gluten-free flour alternatives for many savory dishes. It cannot be used cup for cup with baking, but it is an excellent flour to use in smaller amounts.
Both chickpea flour and fava bean flour have a better nutrient profile than refined wheat flour and provides more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein but fewer calories and carbohydrates. (I am not gluten free but keep this flour in my cupboard and will use it when appropriate to increase the nutritional density of a recipe. I also love the earthy flavor of the bean flours.)
To thicken thin gravy, remove the cooked chicken to a plate and place the skillet with onion gravy on the stovetop over medium heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Bonus: this same cooking method can be used with pork chops, too!
How to Keep Leftovers
You’ll want to clean your plate with this recipe, but if you should have leftovers, just transfer them to a sealable container and keep them in your fridge for up to 4 days. When you need to reheat it, transfer it to a skillet and warm through on medium heat.
Smothered Chicken Thighs in Onion Gravy
- 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
- 8 (3 pounds) bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
- 2 large sweet onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 cup homemade chicken stock or reduced-fat, low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish
Preheat the oven:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Season the flour:
In a large shallow dish, combine the flour, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine.
Heat the oil and prep and season chicken:
In a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering.
Season and sear the chicken:
Pat the chicken thighs dry using a paper towel. Place chicken in the flour-spice mixture to coat on both sides. Shake off the excess flour (and make sure to set the flour aside, you’ll need it to make the gravy).
Add the coated thighs to the pan without crowding and sear in two batches (if necessary) until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Set chicken aside on a plate.
Cook the aromatics:
Add the onions to the skillet and decrease the heat to medium. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds.
Add flour and make gravy:
Add the remaining flour-spice mixture into the onions and stir to coat and combine. Add the chicken stock to the onion flour mixture. Stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer.
Add chicken and remaining ingredients into skillet:
Add to the skillet the reserved chicken thighs with any accumulated juices, thyme sprigs, and the bay leaf. Nestle the thighs into the onions and turn to coat all sides in the gravy.
Finish in oven:
Transfer the skillet to the oven, uncovered, and cook until the juices of the chicken run clear when pierced with a knife and the temperature reads 165°F when inserted with an instant-read thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes.
If the gravy seems too thick, remove the chicken thighs to a serving plate and add chicken stock a little at a time. (The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon.)
Adjust seasoning and serve:
Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.