Trader Joe’s Harissa Chicken Thighs


By now you’ve probably heard of TJ’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs which are very good and a big hit. I gave them a big thumbs up, and from what I can gather checking the internet, everyone seems to agree that they’re great. TJ later came out with other marinated chicken thigh flavors. They have three versions now, they added a “HARISSA” version and a “LEMON & HERB” one. I decided to give the HARISSA flavored chicken thighs a try. These are a bit trickier for me. Unlike the SHAWARMA version which I buy pretty regularly now, I don’t think I would buy the HARISSA version again, though I did make a great Chicken and Rice dish using them. Some bloggers seem to like the Harissa version while many others don’t. Not a clear cut winner, so you may have to try and decide for yourself if you are interested. As for me, these Harissa things are nowhere near as good as the Shawarma ones. 

Now after some careful label checking, I think I figured out one major “problem” with these after I looked closely at the two packages. Here’s one big difference between the Shawarma and Harissa versions: the liquid content.

The label on the Harissa Flavored Chicken Thighs says “Contains up to 28% Solution….”

The Shwarma Chicken Thighs however say “Contains up to 7% Solution…”

A-ha, right? The “Harissa flavored” version has a much “wetter” marinade that the Shawarma version and this wetter marinade (i.e., more water) means they would absorb more liquid as weight into the meat sitting in this package. To me 1/4+ of the weight of a package of chicken being marinade seems massive. So one thing I found with these compared to the Shawarma thighs is it was harder to get a good sear going quickly when I threw them into a hot cast iron pan, as with the Shawarma thighs. Which frankly makes sense considering a much higher liquid content, and that fact is not in the Plus Column. Another bugging point to me was, why would tomato paste be the first ingredient in a “Harissa” marinade? Tomato paste is present in harissa, but its a minor player, the primary ingredient being fresh or dried red chiles.

These also didn’t have anywhere near as a distinctive flavor as the Shwarma version. So all in all, these are “just OK” for me. Personally I wouldn’t buy them again (unless I was making an Arroz con Pollo, for which these worked well). Frankly my suggestion is, if you really want to make some “Harissa Chicken” — just buy some boneless chicken at TJ, buy a jar of TJ’s Harissa ($2.70) and marinate it with lots of harissa smeared all over the thighs (or breast) for a 1/2 hour or so. I bet it would be delicious and work way better than these. Boneless skinless organic thighs I think are 2.99 a pound. These Harissa chicken flavored thighs sell for $4.99 a pound. 

PS – If I remember correctly when I looked at the label, the “LEMON & HERB” marinated thighs have an even higher “contains up to XXX % solution” content (50% or more?) You are paying chicken prices for lemon juice!

So these are not terrible but not great. RATED AS “MEH” – UNLESS DOING AN ARROZ CON POLLO which did turn out great with rich tomato-y rice (and if you want a basic recipe idea leave a Comment)

BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS – How To Cook Nice and Juicy! (RECIPE)


Lots of people complain about boneless chicken breasts being dry and tasteless. Well, they don’t have to be dry. You can easily make them turn out juicy and delicious with this little cooking trick I’ve come up with.

Boneless breasts can quickly go from being moist and juicy to dry with just a minute of overcooking. So you do have to be careful with your cook time and technique. Over the years I’ve experimented plenty cooking boneless breasts and I’ve figured out a method that really seems to work well. Try this the next time you make chicken breasts.

Here’s my my not-so-secret, secret way of cooking boneless breasts so they are juicy and delicious.

Chicken breast meat, especially off the bone and with the skin removed, is naturally very lean. It just doesn’t have enough intramuscular fat like dark meat such as thighs have, which makes thighs much easier to cook without them getting overcooked and dried out. Therefore the trick with cooking boneless breasts is basically to get a very nice sear on both sides, then let them finish in the pan with the cover on and the heat off using residual heat to let them finish cooking. That’s the secret in a nutshell.

Chicken breasts – Fresh or Frozen. During Covid-19, I started buying frozen breasts instead of fresh at Trader Joe’s. Sure I usually would prefer fresh over frozen but I don’t want to go to a store as often, so having frozen chicken breasts in the freezer is very practical. TJ’s sells them prepped and quick frozen in 2.5 lb bags, either “whole breasts with rib section” which are a big whole breasts or you can get portioned, trimmed up ones which are half a breast and make a perfect portion per person. They run about 7 or 8 dollars a bag. And there is an Organic option which doesn’t cost much more than the regular ones so you might opt for those. If I get them frozen, I let them do an overnight defrost (more like a full day) in the fridge – how long will depend on how thick they are. As I have mentioned many times in this blog, I always use the slow defrost method, as it is the best method for defrosting almost everything. If you rush the defrosting and say leave it out on the counter you will see liquid run out of the meat. Then your chicken will be drier no matter how you cook them. Naturally if you prefer to use fresh boneless chicken breasts, this same cooking method works equally well with fresh breasts. Fresh of course is the “normal” way I would buy chicken pre-Covid-19 and have also at times bought fresh breasts on sale, trim them up and freeze them myself. It’s just a little more work, but when they are $1.99 /lb on sale at my supermarket, its worth it.

Here’s the general outline of this method: Season/Marinate. Sear on both sides. Turn off heat. COVER PAN. WAIT.

HOW TO COOK JUICY BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS :

Prep and trim the breasts. Season and/or marinate the meat (use a spice rub or marinade). In the picture above I used some TJ TACO SEASONING all over the breasts. Its a convenient spice blend I think actually works well with chicken as well as beef. Its a cumin and chile “mexican” spice blend. AJIKA works great too. Of course any mix or blend of spices of your choosing will work. Smoked Spanish Paprika is great to add as it helps browning and is very flavorful (TJ carries it in a tin). I almost always add fresh garlic. Rub spices all over. Salt/pepper to taste. Let the seasoned chicken marinate/sit for 20-30 minutes on the counter. TIP: Rub some Olive Oil (EVOO) over the chicken before adding the spices and they will stick better. Some people like a sprinkle of some coating (a bit of flour, or breadcrumbs or Panko). What we are going for is a nice golden brown color on both sides of the chicken.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil (or oil and butter mix) in your pan (Non-stick or Cast Iron). Cast iron is terrific. Get your pan hot on medium heat. Add chicken breasts and let them sear: DO NOT TOUCH or move the breasts in the pan for 3-5 minutes until you see a good “Golden Brown and Delicious” sear on the bottom. Good browning is crucial for flavor (aka the Maillard effect). When bottom side is done, use a spatula and flip the breasts over and cook the other side – but only about 2-3 minutes on side two (!) Now turn off the fire and immediately put a tight fitting lid on your pan. Do not peek or open the cover for 7-10 minutes (we don’t want to let the precious steam that will finish cooking them) TIP: (optional) Squeeze a quarter lemon in the pan before closing the lid, quickly. Throw the peel in too. Set your timer for 7-10 minutes to let the breasts finish cooking in the covered pan. Thats the whole trick, letting residual steam and heat finish them, slowly. Voila! Juicy Breasts with a ton of flavor.

This little trick to cook juicy boneless breasts is that easy. With this method, the seared breasts are not cooked all the way through the middle but will finish cooking in the “closed, moist environment” inside the pan. Now you may have to play around with your own actual timing, adjusting a little bit either more or less based on thickness of chicken and what type of pan (thicker pans and cast iron hold heat well). What we are aiming for in the cooking is getting them just over the line of seeing any pink or rawness. After they are just past the point of not being pink you get them out of the pan and rest them on a plate or cutting board for about 4-5 minutes (some foil over them will help keep them warm). Resting keeps juices in. The breasts should be cooked through (don’t slice before resting them, but once rested you can “peek” in a thick section). Remember meats continue cooking a bit from residual heat inside.

In the photo the bigger thicker piece did need another 30-60 seconds to finish cooking completely so I just put it back with the cover on with a lowish flame for one minute. Its way easier if they are a bit underdone to cook them a little bit more then overcook them. You can also make shallow slashes in the thicker part of a breast prior to seasoning them to help even things out with the thinner parts as heat will penetrate the slashed part easier. Or you can pound the thick part flat with a pan a bit which will even them out. Anyway give this method a few tries and you will figure out your exact timings depending on a few factors (chicken thickness, heat source, pan thickness, etc). Electric stoves of course have a great deal of residual heat after they are shut off so Wait Time would really need to be much less (or just move the pan to a cool burner). If your chicken is still coming out “dry” with this Sear & Cover Method, you will need to deduct a minute of the outside browning time especially after you turn them. Conversely if its pink in the thickest part add a tiny bit more time. You can also try it with the lid on for the second side browning, but deduct a minute or two as the steaming effect inside the pan will be more intense. Now that you know this sear and cover method, you can experiment. If you like the results please let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Naturally serving these with a tasty sauce is great for flavor plus keeping things moist too. Try yogurt and Green Dragon or Zhoug -or- yogurt and lemon, or just deglaze the pan with a tiny bit of stock, wine or even just water and using the scrapings, and a bit of butter to make a few tablespoons of pan sauce. If you want a slightly thick sauce, add a pinch of cornstarch slurry.

Hope you enjoy this basic technique. If you want to explore cooking boneless breasts by poaching them instead of grilling, the Kitchn has a detailed explanation and good cooking technique for POACHED BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS (LINK BELOW) Poaching is great for moistness, but you don’t get the intense flavor of grilling.

https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-moist-tender-chicken-breasts-every-time-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-36891

Trader Joe’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS


Trader Joe’s SHAWARMA SEASONING BONELESS & SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGHS

RAVE

I almost never buy meats that come premarinated in a package, as I can easily make whatever marinade I would want myself, however when I first saw TJ’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs they caught my attention. Because I so love Shawarma, I decided to give it a try. In short not only did I like TJ’s Shawarma Chicken way more than I expected to, the fact is I have bought it, again and again. These are really super tasty. So if you don’t want to read this whole piece and just want to know if these are worth buying, the answer is yes. If you want to know more, read on!

TJ SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are extremely flavorful, imbued with all the Middle Eastern Shawarma spices they use which include: “Onion, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, turmeric and parsley…”

This chicken is quite easy to make into a tasty dish and convenient to have as an unopened package easily stays for a week in the fridge (they state much longer but I think the “good until” dates on the package are way too generous). Naturally one can also freeze it (defrost it overnight in fridge).

How easy is this to make into dinner? Pretty much just toss the chicken into a pan, and in maybe 20 minutes you have a tasty dinner, with the addition of a few sides (rice? veggies? naan?).. Upon cutting the bag open, you will immediately smell all the nice “Shawarma” spices in the marinade. Be warned, the tumeric and anatto used will stain your fingers and everything it touches an orange red color. I recommend using tongs or a fork, and if your cutting board gets stained orange just wipe it later with diluted bleach. Once removed from the package blot the chicken a bit with a paper towel of excess liquid. Any little fat that you may see will melt off during cooking and keep the meat moist, so I don’t trim it. Put a few shallow slashes in the thickest parts of the thigh to help it cook evenly. Our kitchen smelled wonderful from all those nice Middle Eastern spices during cooking. The chicken is imbued with spices having been marinated for some time but even so I do hit the chicken with a sprinkle of additional spices (smoked paprika, TJ’s Everyday Seasoning, etc) as more dry spices will make it brown up even more.

Shwarma Chicken cooking with added onion and garlic

COOKING: I usually grill this in a black cast iron pan (or just use non-stick pan). I add about 1-2 teaspoons of oil (and butter mix, as the butter adds great flavor and browns wonderfully). Cook on medium heat for 7-8 mins, till nicely browned. TIP: I let them cook without touching or moving them (important) so they really get a good sear. I added sliced onion too and sliced garlic, which go great with the chicken.

When one side is done, turn and cook about another 6-7 minutes. So in about 15 minutes you have can dinner, with some sides, say basmati rice and veggies or a salad. If you have the option to grill these on a real grill with wood or charcoal or course they would probably taste even better. Baking in the oven can work too for 20 minutes on high. You could even bake it as a Sheet Pan Supper with veggies, for an easy one-pan dinner.

Of course you could add even more spices (more cumin, Ajika, or something spicy…) I almost always add spices like Spanish smoked paprika which helps with browning and especially fresh garlic. The marinade is not spicy so if you want some heat just add something of your choosing. TJ’s Zhough Green sauce goes especially well with these, with a bit brushed on at the very end, and/or on the side after cooking. A little Peri-peri hot sauce can be great! Cook veggies in the same pan (onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes…) and they will be really tasty.

Cooked then sliced and put back in the pan (with some arugula)

What about cooking these under the broiler? When I tried cooking the thighs this way they gave up a lot of liquid that collected at the bottom of the pan so I kind of keep my grilling in a pan method as best to stay juicy.

Thighs are good because they are almost impossible to overcook – unlike boneless breasts which are easy to overcook and dry out (side note – here’s my secret for cooking juicy boneless chicken breasts –) : (juicy chicken breasts)

When the chicken is done, take the thighs out of the pan and rest them 3-5 minutes before slicing (resting meat keeps it juicier). I slice the chicken then put it back in the pan (including any juices) to keep warm before assembling the shwarma. Chopped fresh cilantro or fresh parsley or arugula if you like some green taste and color. Maybe a squeeze of lemon. Assembly; warm your flatbread, place some chicken mixture down the center, top with sauce, some optional veggies, and serve. To eat, fold gently and eat like you would a taco.

Shawarma chicken, served on TJ’s Garlic Naan with Tzaziki, and veggies. Super yummy!!

As mentioned, I find these go great with TJs’ “ZHOUG” Yemeni green hot cilantro sauce which is spicy and matches well with Middle East spices. Or Greek Yogurt and Zhoug mixed together. TZAZIKI sauce is pefect.

If you wanted to, you could even cut these up into chunks and thread them on skewers (with onions and peppers) and grill them as KABOBS.

You can serve the chicken many ways but sure a great way of course would be as a SHAWARMA wrap with Naan or other flatbread. Put the sliced chicken on flatbread, warm pita or TANDOORI NAAN (yes!) or even TJ HABANERO LIME TORTILLAS…. add a few chopped veggies (tomato, cukes, shredded lettuce, scallion, parsley…) Top with some sauce, a tahini or yogurt garlic sauce (tzaziki sauce worked great). YEMENI ZHOUG SAUCE if you like spice! Or a little BOMBA. Voila, Chicken Shawarma. A little messy to eat but oh so good. Your family will love them. Basmati Rice on the side, or as a bed, would be a great match with this.

You will love these!

Shopping notes : Shawarma Chicken Thighs, Tzatziki, Frozen Naan, onion, garlic, veggies…..

The second dish I made with these chicken thighs was to use them in Chicken Tacos and Fajitas. Despite the slight cultural melange, they were actually terrific used as Tacos. Well, you did know that Lebanese migrants had a big part in Mexican food culture and created the famed Tacos Al Pastor, right? It’s true. Some Green Dragon hot sauce with it’s tomatillo and cilantro flavor made them perfectly Mexican on our tacos.

The SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS cost $4.49 a pound* (note price has increased!) The 1.5 lb package I bought was just over $6 and I got two meals out of it, with sides, so more than if you just bought plain chicken but not a bad deal. These are excellent to also use as the Chicken part of a dish, say a Chicken and Rice (brown the meat with onions, throw in rice, add broth…) I made an Arroz Con Pollo another time with these and it came out terrific! So TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are a good product and worth trying. These are a TJ hit.

If you want to save money, naturally you could buy chicken thighs and add your own blend of “middle eastern style” spices for a marinade and leave it for a few days in the fridge.

(LINK) TJ’s ARCHIVED INFO PAGE FOR SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS

  • UPDATE 1- * The price of these have increased since I originally wrote this from 4.49 to $4.79/lb. (Jan 2021) Wow, yet another price increase! These have gone up again to $5.99/lb!! (Sept 2021)! May be higher when you see them due to rampant Inflation now! Since I wrote this, the package I had bought for $6 is now $9. A 33% percent increase. Sticker shock.
  • UPDATE 2 – TJ now sells two other varieties of marinated thighs: HARISSA and LEMON & HERBS. I think these versions are not as good as the SHAWARMA one. For one thing, they are too wet)! I didn’t like them.

(LINK) Here’s A Recipe I found on TJ’s site with these for Shawarma Chicken Rice Soup

A sheet pan supper using these? Why not? Just cut up the chicken and roast with veggies

THIS IS AUTHENTIC CHICKEN SHAWARMA COOKING ON A HUGE ROTATING SPIT. MEAT THEN SLICED OFF. If you ever get the chance, try it!