Welcome to the first official week of our RV Culinary Improv Challenge! This week’s crispy chicken thighs with stuffed zucchini and fresh salsa is the perfect way to kick-start this series. Yum!
Each week I take three random ingredients readers submitted and turn them into a delicious recipe that’s small-space cooking friendly. If you have suggestions for future columns, please submit them here.
This week I satisfy two readers’ requests at the same time! That’s because Nancy T. and Jeannie C. overlapped on one of their three ingredients and the other items on their lists fit together so well that I used them all for one dinner. It didn’t hurt that all three of Jeannie’s items are things that will likely already be in many RV cupboards.
Here’s what the ladies submitted (independently of one another):
- Chicken thighs, white rice, zucchini – Nancy T.
- Rice, canned diced tomatoes, canned green chiles – Jeannie C.
So what are we making this week? Drumroll, please…
- Crispy Cast Iron Skillet Chicken Thighs accompanied by Stuffed Zucchini and (Bonus Recipe) Tomato Green Chile Salsa—because I had leftover tomatoes and green chiles.
Well, that’s what I made from these ingredients. With all of these recipe challenges, I am going to give you lots of notes and possible substitutions and alternatives.
That’s because you may not have these exact ingredients on hand, but you might be able to make something similar.
It’s all about having options. As always, the goal is to NOT have to run out to the store if at all possible! So, before we get to the actual recipes, let’s give you some ingredient substitution suggestions and tips for success no matter what you cook.
If you come up with other variations or something else to make with these ingredients, be sure to drop your recipes in the comments.
Crispy chicken thighs in a cast iron skillet recipe
When it comes to chicken like this, it is ALL about the skin. That perfect crispy brown skin can turn chicken from meh to WOW. To accomplish this you WILL need a cast iron skillet. Judging from our poll of essential RV kitchen tools, I know most of you carry this item.
Crispy chicken thighs substitutions and options:
- Chicken: Thighs are perfect for this dish. You could use breasts and bake a bit longer, but the dish runs the risk of coming out dry. You could also use different chicken pieces, but then the challenge becomes getting everything to cook evenly. If you opt for this, remove the drumsticks, thighs, and wings about 7 or 8 minutes before the breasts.
- Seasonings: You could opt to keep this recipe super easy and simply season your chicken with salt and pepper and cook according to the directions below. But I like to add a little more flavor. In the recipe below I made a paste of some minced garlic, a Southwest seasoning blend, and a little olive oil. I rubbed this on the thighs UNDER the skin by lifting it up (not off), and rubbing the spice mixture on the chicken, then carefully replacing the skin. You can do this right before cooking or, for more flavor, several hours in advance (store the chicken in the fridge until ready to cook). While I used a Southwest seasoning blend, you could use your favorite such as an Italian blend, Cajun spice, or your own blend.
- Oil: I like avocado oil as it has a high smoke point, but olive, canola, or vegetable oil can also work well.
Important for crispy skin!
In order to get that perfect crispy chicken thigh skin there are a few things you MUST do. Ignore them and don’t expect great results:
- Your cast iron skillet must be very hot before the chicken goes in the skillet. Heat the skillet and add the oil and just before it gets to the smoking point add the chicken, skin side down.
- Once the chicken goes in the hot skillet DO NOT TOUCH IT for at least 7 minutes. I mean it! Time it. Do not lift up or try to turn it. It will stick, make a mess, and you won’t get crispy skin.
Crispy Chicken Thighs Recipe
Makes 6 chicken thighs
- 6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons Southwest seasoning blend (mine was from my favorite spice company, Penzeys)
- 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil (or other oil), divided
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
- Mix garlic, seasoning blend, the 2 teaspoons oil into a paste. Carefully lift skin and rub the seasoning mixture under the skin. Replace skin and season chicken with salt. (Can be done several hours in advance, if desired).
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and heat until just before the smoking point. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving or lifting for 7 minutes. Adjust your flame to keep the pan hot. Everyone’s stoves are different. If it seems like things are cooking too fast or burning, lower the heat.
- Use tongs to turn the chicken skin side up. Place skillet in preheated oven and cook for 12-15 minutes or until meat in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 155 degrees F. Allow meat to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Baked stuffed zucchini recipe
You can prepare this side dish while the chicken cooks so it can go in the oven as soon as the chicken comes out. You can make the salsa while the zucchini bakes.
Stuffed zucchini substitutions and options:
- No zucchini: If you don’t have zucchini or another vegetable to stuff, no problem—the stuffing makes a great side dish all on its own.
- Zucchini: Zucchini makes a terrific vehicle for stuffing, but you could also use yellow squash (I did), or a hollowed-out tomato would also work.
- Rice: While the challenge called for white rice, you could use brown rice, wild rice, or a rice medley instead.
- Additions: As per the challenge, I added canned diced tomatoes and green chiles to the rice stuffing. If I had some leftover black beans or corn in the fridge, they would have been great additions to the rice stuffing.
- Cheese: You could omit cheese in this recipe, but who doesn’t love cheese? I used Monterey Jack but any similar melting cheese would also work. So would hard cheese like Parmesan or Romano, or a combo of different cheeses. Use up what’s on hand!
Ingredients and directions
- 3 large zucchinis
- 2 teaspoons olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup diced onion
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1/2 of a 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 2/3 of a 4 oz. can green chiles
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese, divided
- Cut ends off zucchinis and cut in half lengthwise. Take a spoon and hollow out the insides, leaving a zucchini shell. Discard insides or reserve for another use. Cover a baking sheet with oil, add a light coating of oil, and place shells on baking sheet.
- Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until starting to brown, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add rice, tomatoes and their juices, and chiles to the skillet and stir to combine. Cook, stirring, until heated, about 3-4 minutes. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in half the grated cheese.
- Divide rice stuffing among the 6 hollowed-out zucchini halves. Top with remaining cheese. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to brown and the zucchini is just barely tender. (Oven should still be at 400 degrees F from cooking the chicken.)
Tomato green chile salsa recipe
I did not originally intend to make salsa, but I had half a can of tomatoes and a third of a can of green chiles left over after making the zucchini stuffing, so I turned it into an easy salsa that goes great with the chicken. You could also serve it with chips for a snack.
Salsa substitutions and options:
- If you have a chipotle chile on hand (or a small can of them), toss one into the mix for a smoky spicy addition.
- Fresh jalapeño or serrano chiles will give the salsa a bright flavor and substantial heat.
- If you have cilantro on hand, add a few minced tablespoons. If not, the salsa will still be delicious.
- A squeeze of lime, if you have some, is another great addition.
- I used my Toss and Chop to chop the onions and cilantro. This was part of our unusual RV kitchen item round-up and it’s a winner of a tool to have in an RV kitchen!
Ingredients and directions
- 1/2 can tomatoes left over from the zucchini stuffing
- 1/3 can green chiles left over from the zucchini stuffing
- 1/4 minced onion
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lime, cilantro, and other optional ingredients above
- Mix everything together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve chilled.
Please submit three random ingredients to Cheri and see what she makes with them! Use the form below. It will be fun!