Fusilli with Fragrant Chicken Thigh Ragu

I’m always struggling to figure out ways to use my dark meat chicken. I know it is more forgiving to cook than the breast meat, I know it is less expensive, but the problem is that I just don’t like the taste or texture of it very well. I’m trying to get my mom into the habit of buying whole chickens instead of parts, partly to start building up a stash of good chicken stock in the freezer (now that I have used up the last of her boxed stock, which looks like used dishwater in comparison). I broke down the chicken and promptly used the breast meat to make chicken tacos with homemade tortillas, but the legs and thighs were waiting for attention for several days. Finally, I remembered a Friulian pasta dish from Marcella Hazan that calls for a ragu made of ground chicken thighs.

I may not have my electric grinder here in Colorado, but my food processor did a passable job of grinding it up; of course, it was pretty well mangled already, since I don’t have much experience deboning thighs and drumsticks. The meat simmered in a bath of aromatic vegetables and herbs until it thickened up, while I cooked a potful of fusilli and some green beans.

I was tempted to shred some Parmesan cheese over top of the finished pasta, but once I tasted it, I was glad that I didn’t. The sauce is incredibly flavorful, fragrant with mint, rosemary and lemon zest. (I rescued the zest from some lemons that my mom had chucked after making lemonade; a quick rinse, a trip through the microplane, and it was soon safely stashed away in the freezer for recipes like this!) And perhaps the best part, for me, was the fact that grinding up the dark meat makes its texture less offensive for my palate!

Fusilli with Fragrant Chicken Thigh Ragu

4 boneless chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds (I used 2 thighs and 2 drumsticks)
2 T olive oil
3 T butter
1/3 C onion, chopped fine
1/3 C carrot, chopped fine
1/2 C celery, chopped fine
Black pepper ground fresh
7 large or 10 small mint leaves, chopped
1 C white wine
2 C roughly chopped canned plum tomatoes (or fresh, skinned and seeded)
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1 T fresh sage leaves, minced
1 T fresh or frozen lemon zest
1 16 ounce box of gemelli, fusilli, or penne, cooked al dente

Remove the skin and fat from the chicken thighs, and wash them in cold running water. Grind the meat fine in a food processor or a meat grinder.

Place the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a medium skillet, turn on the heat to medium high, and cook the onion, stirring periodically, until light golden brown. Add the chopped carrot and celery and cook for a minute or so, turning the vegetables over from time to time. Add the ground chicken, turn the heat up, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add salt, pepper, mint and white wine, turning the contents of the skillet over two or three times. When the wine has bubbled away, add the tomatoes, stir once, and lower the heat. Allow to cook at a gentle but steady simmer for 30 to 45 minutes in the uncovered pan until, when you skim the surface of the sauce with the side of a wooden spoon, the fat following the spoon’s trail runs clear.

Add the chopped rosemary, sage, and lemon peel, stir to distribute, and cook at a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.  Toss cooked pasta with the sauce and serve. You can cook the sauce a day or two in advance; refrigerate it until ready to use.

Source: Marcella Hazan, via What Did You Eat?

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