Like many of you, I’ve been cooking a lot during these past 2+ months. There have been lots of old favorites, mostly comfort-food recipes. But I’ve been reading and trying plenty of new things, too. This particular recipe is my version of one I first tried after seeing it in the Washington Post food section because it sounded so bizarre: Spicy Chocolate Milk-Simmered Chicken.
The Post’s version was super-simple, and once I looked up how to make my own chocolate milk, I was good to go. It was delicious! The recipe notes took pains to state that this isn’t mole, one of the long-simmered, many-ingredient Mexican sauces that sometimes contain chocolate. But it was definitely like mole. So I decided to look at more-or-less authentic mole recipes and see what I could add to this one and still keep it simple.
There were two ingredients common to most of the recipes I looked at: ground sesame seeds and tomato. I thought that substituting tahini or walnut butter and tomato paste could work – and these days, people seem to have them around if they’re making Ottolenghi’s recipes.
The second thing I thought of was browning the chicken, because it would add a lot of flavor. The Post’s recipe doesn’t call for it, but it’s simple enough to do in a non-stick pan without adding any oil. Browning the skin-on chicken thighs also renders some fat, which can be used to bloom the chili powder, as well as the tahini and tomato paste.
Finally, it occurred to me that I didn’t need to mix up chocolate milk from unsweetened cocoa, sugar, and milk to add to the pot – I could add the cocoa powder in after the chili powder, tahini, and tomato paste, then stir in the milk, and then add the sugar.
So here’s my gussied-up version. My husband Cy tells me it’s even better than the original. It’s still easy and you’ll have a rich, tasty dish ready in less than an hour. Serve it with rice or any grain you like – just make enough to soak up all the sauce. You’re not going to want to waste any of it.
This recipe is easily doubled. Four chicken thighs fit comfortably in a 3-quart nonstick saucepan, but if you’re making more, use a nonstick high-sided skillet with a lid. If you happen to have chocolate milk at home, you can use it in place of the milk, cocoa, and sugar. But be sure to taste it – if it’s only mildly chocolaty, you may want to stir in ½ teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa after adding the tomato paste and tahini.
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, patted dry
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder (I use medium-hot)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon tahini or walnut butter
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup whole milk (unsweetened oat or almond milk would also work well)
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, and cut lengthwise in quarters (use 2 if you like it really spicy)
Salt and pepper the chicken thighs on both sides. Put them skin-side down in a 3-quart nonstick saucepan and set over medium heat. Brown the chicken on the skin side, about 8 minutes. Then turn the pieces over and brown on the other side, about 5 minutes. Take the chicken thighs out of the pot and set them aside on a plate.
Add the chili powder and ¼ teaspoon salt to the chicken fat and stir for about 20 seconds. You should start to smell the chili powder. Add in the tahini and tomato paste and stir for another 20 to 30 seconds. Make sure nothing’s burning – you just want to smell the ingredients, that way they’re releasing some flavor into the chicken fat.
Stir in the cocoa powder, then whisk in the milk and stir in the sugar. Add the browned chicken thighs back to the pan along with the jalapeño quarters. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmering and cover the saucepan. Simmer for 35 minutes, until the chicken thighs are cooked through. Serve hot with plenty of sauce.