Special sauce transforms easy baked chicken dish into weeknight go-to

Special sauce travels with an entourage, sandwiched between “two all beef patties” and “lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.” Despite such high security, burger behemoth McDonald’s managed to lose the recipe. And later re-create it.

Now special sauce is smeared everywhere — Big Mac, resume, corporate slogan. Life coaches, college counselors and CEOs like to invoke “special sauce” — meaning not pink mayo, but a unique trait. An intriguing, if messy, concept.

At my work site, the CEO likes to invoke pan sauce. It’s a recipe that scrapes the essence of a dish — as expressed in the browned bits stuck to the pan – into a sauce swirled bright with wine and smooth with butter. It’s uniquely quick and delicious. In other words, special.

Chicken with Pan Sauce

Prep: 10 minus (plus 3 — 24 hours rest)

Cook: 25 minutes

Makes: 3 servings

For chicken:

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For pan sauce:

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup dry white wine (the better the wine, the better the sauce)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and tossed with 2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

A squeeze of lemon

1. Prep: Season chicken, using 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper per pound. Set on a rack and let rest, uncovered, in the fridge, 2-24 hours. One hour before cooking, pull out of fridge. Heat oven to 450.

2. Crisp: Settle chicken, skin-side down, into a dry, cold cast-iron or nonstick skillet. (Use two skillets, if need be.) Set skillet over medium-high heat until skin turns golden brown, 5 — 6 minutes. Turn chicken and slide pan into oven. Roast until cooked through, about 20 minutes. While breast meat is best at a max of 165 degrees, thighs can reach 200 and remain juicy.

3. Serve: Cover loosely with foil and let rest while you make an easy pan sauce: Pour off much of the fat from the pan. Set pan over high heat. Pour in water and wine, scraping up browned bits from the bottom. Cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Drop in butter and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in parsley. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon, if you like. Pour onto a serving platter, arrange chicken on top.

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