Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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The popular chicken thigh is featured in the second part of the series on “frying.” By adjusting the heat level, you can draw out the features of meat with the frying pan.

Ideally, the skin should be crisp and the meat tender. Place the chicken in the pan skin-side down, turn on the heat and cook slowly over low heat. Since the skin is fatty, the fat will melt with heat and further fry the skin until golden and crisp. On the other hand, the water content of meat when raw is about 70 percent. Low heat is best to cook to the center while limiting moisture evaporation.

Total cooking time is 13 to 15 minutes. Chicken thigh is sinewy in the part closer to the feet. The meat is less likely to curl back when incisions are made there. Cook about 80 percent from the skin side; the meat side that can harden easily should be steam-fried briefly. The overall flavor will become clear if the fat that seeps out is removed.

Salt the chicken lightly. Since salt sprinkled on the skin flows off while being cooked, sprinkle a little as a final touch. The flavor will turn out just right.

BASIC COOKING METHOD

(Supervised by Kuniaki Arima in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensils (Serves two) 1 chicken thigh (300 grams), salt, bit of pepper, 1/2 tsp olive oil, 3 Tbsp water, paper towel, frying pan, aluminum foil, long chopsticks for cooking or spatula

1. Pat dry water on surface of chicken thigh with paper towel. Place skin-side down, cut off yellow fat emerging from skin. If white cartilage remains in the center part, stick tip of knife and cut off.

2. Make incisions in meat. Section with white tendons is the foot side. Make three incisions 3 to 4 cm apart at right angles to tendons (PHOTO A). Use 1/4 tsp salt in the preparation stage. Sprinkle half of salt and bit of pepper on meat side, sprinkle rest of salt on skin side. Leave for 2 to 3 minutes for salt to settle. Pat dry water on skin again.

3. Pour olive oil in frying pan, place chicken skin-side down. Move meat so that oil coats entire skin. Turn to low heat.

4. When fat melts and starts to sizzle after about 5 minutes, cover entire chicken with aluminum foil (PHOTO B). When entire skin turns golden after another 5 to 6 minutes, remove foil, slightly tip pan and turn up heat slightly. Absorb excess fat from skin with paper towel.

5. Turn meat and pour water down the side of pan. Lightly shake pan to and fro to melt flavor of chicken that has stuck to pan, and let steam rise for about 2 minutes (PHOTO C). Sprinkle 1/6 tsp salt on skin. Serve chicken on plate, reduce remaining juice in pan and pour over meat.

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Kuniaki Arima is the owner-chef of Passo a Passo, an Italian restaurant in Tokyo’s Fukagawa.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairperson of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.

ARRANGED VERSION

<Soy butter sauce>

Cook chicken thigh as above. Instead of sprinkling salt as a final touch, add 1/3 tsp soy sauce and then 1 tsp butter in pan and coat chicken. Cut into appropriate size and serve with tomato and herb (rosemary in photo) if desired.

COOKERY SCIENCE

Choose low heat when cooking thick meat for a juicy finish. The higher the heat, the more the protein of meat will shrink. It will no longer be able to carry the water present between the muscle fibrils, and the meat juice will flow out. Over high heat, the meat will start to dry from the surface before the center is done.

Q&A

Question: Various types of salt are sold. Are there effective ways to use them differently?

Answer (By Naohito Yoshikawa): Are you aware of the difference in the bulk density? “A teaspoonful” of common salt (“shokuen”) with especially small and dry grains weighs 6.5 grams, while flaky types or wet ones that fill the spoon loosely weighs 4.5 grams. This difference gives us the impression that the saltiness differs among salts. So if a large amount of salt is to be used when making pickles and other food, it is better to weigh the salt to be certain.

There is also a “functional difference.” When sprinkling salt on meat or fish in the preparation stage, dry fine-grained salt is suitable to be sprinkled evenly. Meanwhile, if crushed rock salt or large-grained salt are used as a final touch on cooked meat or fish, you can enjoy the crunchy texture.

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Naohito Yoshikawa heads the Research Institute of Salt and Sea Water Science of the Salt Industry Center of Japan based in Kanagawa Prefecture.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column