This crispy chicken thighs dinner features a fragrant sauce and topping of feta cheese. Make this recipe for a fabulous meal any night of the week!
When it comes to chicken, I have strong preferences. While I do think dredging, pan-frying, and making a pan sauce can do wonders for chicken breasts, I’ll always prefer chicken with a nicely seared, crispy skin.
If you feel the same way, you’re going to love these crispy chicken thighs with spiced tomato sauce, feta, and oregano.
The flavors in this dish are inspired by my shakshuka recipe. If you like the sound of this recipe, you will definitely want to check that out as well! It’s almost an identical flavor profile, but with poached eggs instead of chicken.
Ingredients For Crispy Chicken Thighs in tomato sauce
- Chicken thighs – Use skin-on, bone-in thighs to get juicy meat and crispy skin.
- Grapeseed oil (or any neutral-flavored, high-heat oil)
- Canned whole peeled tomatoes – If you are sensitive to acidity, choose San Marzano tomatoes. Or, use fresh by blanching Roma tomatoes and removing the skins before use.
- Canned crushed tomatoes – Again, feel free to use fresh tomatoes instead. Peel, quarter, and seed Roma tomatoes and pulse a few times in a food processor.
- Harissa paste – While the flavor won’t be the same, chile paste can be used in equal amounts instead.
- White granulated sugar – This is actually far more important than you’d think, so don’t leave it out! Sugar counters the acidity of the tomatoes and brings out the complexity of the flavors.
- Oregano – To substitute dried oregano, use about ½ teaspoon for every 1 sprig. Crush the herbs in your hand first to release the flavor and aroma.
- Feta – I recommend buying a block of feta in brine. Gently pat it dry and cut into cubes. Then, crumble the cubes leaving some larger pieces.
WHAT IS HARISSA?
Harissa is a spicy, aromatic chili paste (sometimes sold as a powder). It is commonly found in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Recipes will vary by country and region, but typically include chili peppers (smoked or regular), olive oil, garlic, and assorted spices. The spice blend might include coriander, cumin, caraway, mint, and sometimes tomatoes and/or rose petals.
Harissa can vary quite a bit in heat level. So, if you are sensitive to spicy food, be sure to taste a bit before adding it to a recipe!
SUBSTITUTE FOR HARISSA
If you don’t want to buy harissa, you could try a combo of 1/4 cup tomato paste and a teaspoon of smoked paprika, or maybe 1 teaspoon smoked paprika + 1 teaspoon sweet paprika. I haven’t tested the recipe using a substitute, so I can’t make any guarantees. However, I think it would be good (though less fragrant and nuanced).
How to Make Crispy Chicken Thighs In Spiced Tomato Sauce
STEP 1: PREP THE CHICKEN
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and season generously all over with salt and pepper. The drier the chicken, the crispier the skin will be.
STEP 2: SEAR THE SKIN
There is an entire section of tips below, explaining how to properly sear chicken thighs for the best results!
Once the skin is crispy, use kitchen tongs to transfer the chicken to a cutting board or plate, skin-side up to preserve that crispy skin.
You’ll simmer the chicken thighs in the tomato sauce at the end, so it’s ok if they’re not fully cooked through at this point.
STEP 3: PREPARE THE SAUCE
Doesn’t this just-used pan look delicious? In all seriousness, it actually is. Do not wipe the pan down before starting the sauce. Those brown bits (aka fond) add tons of flavor to the final dish.
If there’s a lot of leftover fat in the pan, you can dab it out with paper towels. But don’t touch that fond!
Toss everything in the pan and simmer, carefully breaking up the whole peeled tomatoes along the way, until the sauce has thickened a bit and tastes awesome.
You can always add a bit more seasoning to taste.
STEP 4: RETURN THE CHICKEN TO THE PAN
Again, leave the skin-side up. so it doesn’t get soggy. Nestle the thighs in the tomato sauce without covering them.
Then, simmer for another 8-10 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest portion shows 165 degrees F.
STEP 5: FINISH WITH FETA AND OREGANO
Sprinkle with feta and the remaining oregano, then serve. I like to pair this with crusty bread to soak up the sauce.
Recipe Notes and Substitutions
- Make sure to thoroughly pat the chicken skin dry before seasoning and searing.
- Use a pan like cast iron, stainless steel, or aluminum (anything but nonstick). I used this pan. Cast iron gets the best sear, but I recommend using enameled cast iron if your pan isn’t very well seasoned since sometimes acidic ingredients like tomatoes can react with cast iron.
- Use a thin, firm spatula to flip the chicken. This is my favorite spatula, but it’s often out of stock these days.
- If the chicken is sticking, don’t touch it. It will eventually loosen up on its own. If you’re worried it’s getting too smoky, remove the pan from the heat for a moment. Then, turn the heat down a bit when you return the pan to the burner.
- Don’t crowd the pan or it will impact the temperature. The chicken should not be touching. Cook in batches if necessary.
- If you want crispy skin without the bones, you can debone the thighs before cooking. In my experience, boneless skin-on thighs are impossible to find, so you need to do it yourself.For more info on deboning (and to get an awesome recipe), check out Nom Nom Paleo’s Cracklin’ Chicken.
Understanding the Smoke Point of Oils
This recipe requires using an oil with a high smoke point. Are you wondering what a smoke point is, and which oils are appropriate to use?
Check out my post: Understanding The Smoke Point of Cooking Oils and Fats!
Recipe Notes And Ingredient Substitutions
- I’ve used both crushed and whole peeled tomatoes because I like a sauce with some texture. However, you can use all crushed tomatoes, or a mix of crushed and diced.
Fire-roasted tomatoes would also work. Just make sure to purchase canned tomatoes without additional seasonings like basil.
- You can substitute other types of chicken if you don’t want the skin, but you won’t get the same crispy texture. This will work with boneless skinless thighs or even chicken breasts.You can dredge them before cooking to add a bit of that texture back (read more about dredging in my how to make a pan sauce tutorial).
- I recommend using a splatter screen to avoid getting hot fat all over your stove (or your hands and arms).
Other Chicken Recipes
If you love this recipe, be sure to check out my Crispy Sesame Chicken Fingers with Spicy Peanut Sauce. Or, Buttermilk Chicken is always a family favorite.
You can also find ideas in my full archive of chicken recipes here!
Crispy Chicken Thighs in Tomato Sauce with Feta
- 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 1/4 pounds total)
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, or any neutral-flavored, high heat oil
- 1 (14-5 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 (14-5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup harissa paste (harissa powder may be substituted)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 3-4 sprigs oregano, divided
- 3 ounces good quality feta, very coarsely crumbled (about 1 cup; see notes)
- Optional: crusty bread for serving
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and season all over with salt and pepper.
- Place a large flat-sided skillet or Dutch oven (preferably enameled cast iron or stainless steel) over medium-high heat, and add the oil.
- Once the oil is hot shimmery, add the chicken, skin-side down, leaving some space so they’re not touching. Cover with a splatter screen if you have one. Sear the skin for approximately 5-7 minutes without moving it. Turn the heat down or briefly move the pan off the burner if you feel like it may burn, but don't try to flip the chicken too soon or the skin will stick to the pan. The skin will release on its own when it's ready. Once the skin is brown and crispy, use a spatula to flip the chicken and then cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Using kitchen tongs, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate, skin-side up to preserve the crispy skin.
- Add tomatoes, harissa, sugar, the leaves from 1 sprig oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the same pan (don't wipe it down; leave the brown bits). Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring and carefully breaking up the whole peeled tomatoes with a spatula or wood spoon, until the sauce has started to thicken slightly, 8–10 minutes.
- Nestle chicken thighs, skin-side up, back into skillet over the sauce.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs near the bone register 165 degrees F), and tomato sauce has thickened up a bit more, 6–8 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and let the the chicken rest for 5 minutes. Crumble the feta over the chicken, along with the leaves from 2-3 sprigs of oregano.
- Serve, optionally with torn crusty bread to soak up the sauce.
- Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days, but the skin will lose it's crispiness once you chill it. It still tastes good!
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
For immediate help troubleshooting a recipe, please email me using the form on my contact page. I’ll try to respond to urgent questions as quickly as possible! For all general questions, please leave a comment here :)