A Good Appetite: When a dish always works well and can be thrown together on autopilot, it's time to experiment. Try something new with chicken thighs by adding lemon and maple syrup for an autumnal meal. Recipe: Roasted Chicken Thighs with Delicata Squash

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One of the benefits of repeating the same cooking technique over and over is that once you’ve mastered the basics, you can get creative with the fine points. For example, there’s my ever-adaptable, always-quick roasted chicken thighs with whatever-you-have vegetables.

The core recipe is beyond simple, the kind of thing that fits in a tweet with characters to spare: “Oil up bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs & cut up veggies, season w/salt & pepper & spices, roast at 425 for 30ish minutes.”

I’ve made this dozens of times in every season of the year, varying the vegetables and spices to suit my mood and refrigerator inventory. Just take thighs (or drumsticks if you like) and add broccoli with cumin, or carrots with thyme sprigs, or sweet potatoes and cinnamon. The dish always works well, and I can throw it together on autopilot while chatting with my mother on the phone.

But there are nights when I have the mental energy and focus to experiment. And then I can really play.

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Such was the case with a recent meal of roasted thighs with delicata squash and coriander seeds. Instead of leaving well enough alone, I decided to mix slices of lemon in with the chicken. They add the same bright acidity as lemon juice, but you also get a gentle sweetness from the zest as the slices caramelize. To tone down the bitterness of the pith, I quickly blanched the lemon slices first.

And along with the coriander seeds, I threw in chopped sage to provide some herbal matter.

All these tweaks would have surely been enough for a fine dinner, but I was having too much fun to stop there. So next I thought of what I could do with the squash other than just brushing it with oil. Something sweet would contrast nicely with the lemon, so I chose maple syrup. But before tossing it with the squash, I simmered it down to a thick glaze to concentrate its autumnal essence (one of those excellent chef-taught tips that I actually use).

Then, halfway through the cooking, I threw some oiled scallions into the pan. This gave them just enough time to soften and mellow without burning.

In the end, the dish was fussier than my usual dinner and much too long for a tweet. But it was worth every extra step, and character, too.


Time: 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes’ marinating

Yield: 4 servings

½ lemon, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise, seeds removed and thinly sliced crosswise into wedges

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 ½ pounds)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped sage

1 ½ teaspoons coriander seed

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup maple syrup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Large pinch chile powder

1 delicata or acorn squash (1 ¼ pounds), seeded and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rings

¼ cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts

1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil; drop in lemon slices and cook for two minutes. Drain well.

2. In a large bowl, toss chicken with lemon slices, 1 tablespoon oil, sage, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Let stand 30 minutes.

3. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

4. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine syrup, butter, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and chile powder. Simmer for 3 minutes. Toss mixture with squash.

5. Spread squash in a 9- by 13-inch pan or on a large rimmed baking sheet. Nestle chicken and lemon on top of squash. Roast for 15 minutes. In a small bowl, toss scallions and remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Scatter over chicken and squash; keep roasting until chicken is no longer pink, about 20 minutes more.

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