- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let’s have a quick show of hands among the diet-conscious: Who’s craving a plain baked chicken breast right now?

Exactly. No one.

Chicken breasts au naturel don’t ring my bells either, so I’m always looking for ways to pair chicken with flavor detonators to have myself a real meal. One of my favorite ways to enjoy chicken is to dispense with the breasts altogether. And since I’m a thigh man, I opt to use chicken thighs instead.

Yes, it’s true the thigh is fattier than the breast - about 8 grams per 4-ounce cooked portion - but the fat brings with it the extra zing and moisture breasts so often can lack.

Plus, the dark meat of the thigh contains the nutritional jackpot of more iron and twice the zinc of white meat. Better yet, you’ll be saving more than 400 calories a serving here, compared to a classically prepared chicken dish like coq au vin.

And if you’re a novice cook, that extra fat also means it’s harder to screw up a recipe with chicken thighs, no matter how you cook them. Unlike with chicken breasts, thighs rarely end up overcooked or dry.

My recipe for braised chicken thighs, which is perfect for a hearty winter meal, combines two techniques: browning over high heat and cooking with quick, low-heat braise, either in the oven or a slow cooker.

Braising foods is a great way to create tender, meaty dishes. Cook this dish at a lower temperature in your slow cooker if you need to be away from the kitchen for the day. Or you can do it in the oven at 275 degrees for 3 to 5 hours. Just be sure you have a tight-fitting cover for your pot to make sure the liquid doesn’t evaporate.

BRAISED CHICKEN WITH MUSHROOMS AND MUSTARD

Start to finish: 1 hour (20 minutes active), plus cooling

Servings: 4

1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth

20 dried shiitake mushrooms

8 small bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds total), skinned

Salt and ground black pepper

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