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Fig and Olive Skillet Chicken Thighs

seared chicken thighs finished in a pan surrounded by glossy fig and olive sauce
fig and olive skillet chicken thigh

If you're stuck on chicken breasts and wondering why you're bored of chicken, then it's time to try something slightly different. Chicken thighs (bone in, skin on), are one of the quickest ways to flavour in the chicken department. With or without the bones, there is a much lower risk of drying out which makes them the perfect cut for the starter cook. They're also smaller meaning they cook much faster.

This general recipe formula is perfect for chicken thighs and it's one I think you should master. Once you do, you can chance up the flavours, the veggies, the starches. You can use this same formula but make thousands of different chicken dishes. And since it's all in one pan - you're going to want to use this again and again.

I love looking at a recipe and breaking it down into a formula. You'd be surprised how many recipes you can do that with. The bare bones of any recipe is where all the creative magic happens. This might seem far away from your reality and quite unrealistic, but you can get there! If you're firmly a recipe cook, then I hear you, but I still encourage you to try something new. The less you stay stuck on specific recipes, the more comfortable you'll feel swapping ingredients out. Here's an example of why I think that's important.

I set out to make Carolina Gelen's apricot chicken but I did not have apricots, nor did I have apricot jam. I knew those ingredients were ultimately just adding sweetness so that's what I searched for in my pantry. I came up with dried figs and fig jam. Perfect. If I'd stayed too glued to the original recipe, I'd either have to find a new recipe or go buy apricots and neither were in the cards that day.

I loved the sounds of the recipe but I did worry it was too sweet for my preference so I made some changes to work around that. I reduced the dried fruit in total, then added meaty green olives and walnuts. The flavours of the figs, olives, and walnuts reminded me of some sort of appetizer snack platter and it all made me want a cocktail but instead I poured some white wine in the pan and was on my way to cooking.

What we end up with here is a dish that's quick and super flavourful- a perfect weeknight option. It's sweet and spiced, briny and savoury, a wonderful well rounded dish.

The general bones of a recipe like this are as follows:

-season and sear chicken

-remove chicken and most of the fat

-cook vegetables and aromatics in the same pan

-add spices or spice pastes

-add a cooking liquid and return chicken to the pan

-simmer on the stove or in the oven

-serve with a starch, bon appetit

Here's how it all went down.


8 one in, skin on chicken thighs

1 large onion, sliced thinly into half moons

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp dried oregano

a few thyme sprigs

a dash of allspice, optional

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

8 dried figs, chopped

1 heaping tbsp fig jam

1/2 cup broken green olives (pitted)

1/4 c chopped walnuts

1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar

3/4 c white wine

1/4 c water, note you can use a full up water or stock if you're looking to avoid the alcohol here

handful fresh chopped parsley, to serve


Preheat oven to 425F. Season the chicken well with salt and pepper on both sides. If you have time, let them sit, uncovered, on a dish in the fridge. This helps to dry out the skin. Dry skin = crispy skin. This is important. If you don't have time to let them sit, just pat them dry before you sear.

Sear them chicken, starting skin side down, in a medium- high skillet or cast iron until you can easily flip them. If you have to pull and rip at the skin, they're not ready to flip. Cook on both sides until golden brown then remove to a dish.

Remove all but 1-2 tbsp of the remaining fat (strain and save this to use for roasted vegetables or beans on another day). Add the sliced onion and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Once soft, add the figs, fig jam, and spices. Cook until the spices darken slightly and become fragrant. This will happen very quickly since the spices are ground. Add the olives, walnuts, red wine vinegar, white wine and water. Add another pinch of salt and pepper and let it come up to a boil. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes and reduce slightly before adding the chicken, skin side up, back to the pan.

Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is glossy. If you find the sauce got too thick, add a splash of water or stock and stir it all well before serving.

Serve with your favourite starch that can sop up the saucy bits, like crunchy bread, polenta, mashed potato, rice, or white bean puree.


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