The Speckled Palate

November 4, 2019

Cranberry Chicken Thighs

Bake Cranberry Chicken Thighs this fall and winter for a fancy-feeling and wonderfully delicious centerpiece to any dinner. Made with fresh or frozen cranberries, these baked chicken thighs are perfect for a weeknight meal or a dinner party with friends. Makes 4-6 servings.

A cranberry chicken thigh is served on a white plate with steamed green beans

We always, always, always ate chicken breasts and chicken tenders when I was a kid. To the extent that I couldn’t tell you if I ever ate a part of the chicken that wasn’t one of these parts until well past college.

I liked what I liked, OK?

The first time I purchased chicken thighs, the bird was from a locally pastured farm and sold to me by a lovely lady at the farmer’s market. She told me to bake ‘em, so I did… even though I was thoroughly skeptical that they were going to be as good as my old standby of baked chicken breasts.

Well, it turns out those thighs made me a believer, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

And this year, I wanted to branch out with my chicken thigh recipes, so today, I’m bringing y’all one my family has been LOVING for the last two months: Cranberry Chicken Thighs.

Recipes that pair beautifully with these chicken thighs: Roasted Green BeansMediterranean Scalloped PotatoesParmesan and Pine Nut BroccoliCranberry Feta Brussels Sprout Salad with Candied Pecans and Warm Bacon VinaigretteBourbon Butter Sweet Potatoes 

Looking for another cozy entrée to feed the family this season? Check out my Entrees recipe index for inspiration!

Ingredients for the recipe are shown from above, before cooking

What you’ll need to make Cranberry Chicken Thighs

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Seared bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, in a cast iron skillet

How to make Cranberry Chicken Thighs

First and foremost, you’re going to preheat your oven because these chicken thighs will finish off in the oven!

Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper. Personally, I like about ¾-1 teaspoon of salt per pound of chicken. (If you’ve never tested how much you like, I suggest measuring out ¾ teaspoon per pound and seeing how that tastes for you once this recipe is done. If you want more salt, know to try it with a teaspoon per pound next time.) I like to use about the same amount of pepper, but I know many people like less pepper than I do, so go with your gut here.

Next up, place your cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, and when the pan is hot, add the avocado oil.

When the oil is simmering, add the chicken to the pan, skin-side down. Sear the chicken—and don’t move it!—for about 4-5 minutes before flipping.

The skin should be golden brown when you flip it. Once it’s flipped, cook for another 4-5 minutes without moving the chicken thigh.

Once you’ve cooked both sides, remove the chicken thighs from the pan.

Collage of two images, showing the pouring of bone broth and the squeezing of a lemon, side by side

Pour in the bone broth, and scrape the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. We’re going to use this to deglaze the pan, so keep the heat on as the liquid bubbles. We’ll cook it for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half.

Next, squeeze in the lemon juice.

Add the chicken thighs back into the pan, skin-side up so it can get nice and crispy in the oven. Don’t forget to pour in any juices the chicken thighs have released on the plate because that’s flavor. Turn off the heat from the stovetop, too.

Measure in the cranberries and thyme. Stir some of ‘em into the juices so they’re not just on top of the thighs.

Transfer your cast iron skillet to the preheated oven. (Please note that if you’re using a different kind of pan, it might not be oven-safe. If that’s the case, you need to transfer everything from the pan into a baking dish before it goes into the oven.)

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken thighs’ internal temperature reaches 165°F.

When the thighs reach temperature, remove them from the oven. Serve ‘em with your favorite side dishes!

Collage of cranberries going into the skillet, next to an image of the dish before it goes into the oven

Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips

Entertaining with something as simple as chicken thighs? Y’all know I’m all about the easy entertaining, which means it doesn’t have to be fancy or stressful.

And in my opinion, the cranberries add a little bit of flourish and fanciness to a delicious (but simple) baked chicken thigh.

Here are a few things I recommend when entertaining with this dish:

  • Double or triple the recipe to share with friends. We did this the night that I photographed the recipe, when Madison and her family were in town. It took two pans instead of one in the oven, but that was the only difference.
  • Sear the thighs in advance. If you’re looking to make this faster in the evening, sear the chicken in advance (like, the morning of.) When the chicken is done, place the thighs in a baking dish with the juices, cranberries and spices, and cover with plastic wrap. When it’s time to bake them, uncover the thighs and bake ‘em for the time specified in the recipe.
  • Serve ‘em with your favorite sides. We’re partial to Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potato Casserole and plain ‘ol rice with these thighs because they sop up the gravy. But you do you and serve a side dish that you and your people adore!

Close up of the Cranberry Chicken Thighs in the skillet, after baking

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I ensure my chicken thighs aren’t dry?

Don’t overcook them! Overcooked chicken is dry chicken, and we all know that dry chicken is sad chicken.

In my opinion, chicken thighs are one of the most forgiving cuts of chicken because they have more fat than the chicken breasts do. When cooking them with the skin on and the bone in, you get extra flavor, too!

How long do the chicken thighs need to cook before they’re done?

This recipe calls for searing on the stovetop, and then cooking in the oven. I’ve found that they’re generally done in 30-40 minutes in the oven, but to know when they’re done, I recommend using an instant read meat thermometer to confirm the chicken’s internal temperature reads 165°F.

Can I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs?

You probably can, but I don’t know how that would change the cook time. Also, part of the specialness of this recipe is the crispy skin of the thighs, as seen in all these photos, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on that, would you?

Can I substitute dried cranberries for the fresh cranberries in this recipe?

No, I do not suggest that because dried cranberries have added sugar, and they would add too much sweetness to this recipe. Their texture is also different than fresh or frozen cranberries, so it wouldn’t be a good fit.

If you can’t find fresh cranberries at your grocery store, you can oftentimes find frozen ones in the frozen section. (There are also several cranberry packagers who sell frozen cranberries year-round. I know this because I had to order 10 lbs. of the fruit in August for recipe testing…)

Overhead image of a cranberry chicken thigh on a plate, with rice and steamed green beans

Quick tips for making Cranberry Chicken Thighs

  • Double or triple the recipe for a crowd because they’re great for sharing! These thighs make for a delicious and colorful entrée for dinner, so invite friends to dine with you.
  • No fresh thyme? You can use the dried type, but use ½ of what this recipe calls for, as the dried thyme has a more potent flavor than the fresh.
  • Substitution alert: Frozen cranberries are awesome, but dried cranberries are not for this recipe. If you don’t have chicken bone broth, chicken broth or stock works, too. (Personally, we like bone broth because it doesn’t have any added sugars, while most broths and stocks do these days.)

Close up of a Cranberry Chicken Thigh with brown rice and green beans on a plate

What are some dishes I can serve with these chicken thighs?

Cranberry Chicken Thighs
Yield: 4-6 servings

Cranberry Chicken Thighs

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Bake Cranberry Chicken Thighs this fall and winter for a fancy-feeling and wonderfully delicious centerpiece to any dinner. Made with fresh or frozen cranberries, these baked chicken thighs are perfect for a weeknight meal or a dinner party with friends.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2 ½ lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on (5-6, depending on size)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 2/3 cups chicken bone broth
  • 1 ½ cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ½ lemon, juiced

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, warm the avocado oil.
    Season the chicken thighs with the salt and pepper while the avocado oil heats.
  3. Place the chicken thighs, skin side down, into the skillet. Sear, about 4-5 minutes, and do not move the chicken around the pan, before flipping.
  4. Cook the other side of the chicken thighs for another 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown, and then remove from the pan.
  5. Pour the bone broth into the skillet and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, squeeze in the lemon juice, and then turn off the stovetop. This will take 5-10 minutes, depending on your stovetop.
  6. Add the chicken thighs back into the skillet, skin-side up, along with the juices they release while on the plate.
  7. Measure in the cranberries and thyme, stirring some into the juices so the cranberries can burst in the gravy and add extra flavor.
  8. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven. (If your skillet is not oven safe, please transfer all the ingredients to a baking dish instead before putting it in the oven.)
  9. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken’s internal temperature reaches 165°F.
  10. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with your favorite sides.

Notes

Substitutions you can use in this recipe:

  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme for the fresh thyme sprigs
  • Chicken stock or broth for chicken bone broth. (We choose to use bone broth because there is no added sugar, which many stocks and broths have these days.)
  • Frozen cranberries for the fresh cranberries. However, do NOT use dried cranberries in place of the fresh cranberries, as they will make this recipe too sweet and mess with the texture.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 677 Total Fat: 43g Saturated Fat: 12g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 30g Cholesterol: 364mg Sodium: 843mg Carbohydrates: 6g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 2g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 71g
Nutrition facts are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.

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