Low-and-Slow Spiced Chicken Legs with Garlic Crunch-Crumbs

Chicken leg quarters roast in the oven in an unusual method.
Chicken leg quarters roast in the oven in an unusual method.

When it comes to battered, fried foods, I often think the best part is the little bits of golden, crunchy crumbs that fall off, which get eaten with your fingers with no shame, just total abandon.

If you’re with me on that, then you’ll go crazy for “Low-and-Slow Spiced Chicken Legs with Garlic Crunch-Crumbs.”

Because crunch crumbs — galore.

The recipe is from “That Sounds So Good’ (Clarkson Potter, 2021), of which I received a review copy, by Brooklyn’s Carla Lalli Music, former food director of Bon Appetit magazine, and founder of “Carla’s Cooking Show.”

The book includes 100 recipes for weekday and weekend fare, each helpfully complete with suggested ingredient swaps, in case you don’t want to run to the store for something you don’t have on hand or if just want to shake things up a bit.

For instance, “Pasta with Cacio e Walnut” can be made with Pecorino Romano or aged Gouda instead of the original Manchego; or almonds or pistachios can stand in for the walnuts. In “Grilled Squid with Blackened Tomatoes,” sea scallops or large peeled shrimp can be used instead of squid; and fennel seeds can trade places with the original cumin and coriander seeds. If the “Vanilla-Brown Butter Pear Tart” has caught your eye, but it’s not pear season, then use Pink Lady or Granny Smith apples; or peaches, nectarines or plums with a smidge of cornstarch to thicken their juices.

This chicken dish does indeed cook jaw-droppingly low and slow. Chicken leg quarters get dusted with a seasoning mix of star anise pods, fennel seeds, and 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns that have been ground to a fine powder. I think you can actually go a little heavier on the Sichuan peppercorns because you don’t really taste them much or feel their numbing quality in the cooked chicken. If you don’t have fennel seeds on hand, Lalli Music suggests cumin seeds instead, which would boost the Sichuan taste of the dish.

You know you'll be snacking on these irresistible crumbs. But do save some for the chicken.
You know you’ll be snacking on these irresistible crumbs. But do save some for the chicken.

Slide the chicken into a 300-degree oven, and just let it do its thing. The recipe instructs to cook the chicken for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, then to spoon any accumulated juices over, and roast another 30 minutes. In the recipe below, I changed those instructions to cooking the chicken for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, spooning over any juices, then roasting another 30 minutes. Aim for an internal temperature of 165 to 170 degrees.

As you can see, I suggest shaving about one hour off the original cooking time. You know how there’s a fine line when smoking ribs from fall-apart-tender to taking it too far and getting tough and dry meat instead? Same with this chicken. When I let the chicken roast for the original 3 1/2 hours, I found the meat had lost much of its moisture, and had turned rather leathery. I still think this technique works, but just with an adjustment for the total cooking time.

While the chicken cooks, saute panko crumbs with oil, then stir in minced garlic to flavor it. The result is a heap of crunchy crumbs that taste like your favorite garlic bread.

The recipe instructs cutting the cooked chicken leg quarters into drum sticks and thighs for serving. I left them whole instead. The fun part comes with the garnish — a hail storm of those crunchy crumbs rained down upon that pile of chicken.

The chicken skin ends up paper-thin and crispy, the flesh is imbued with a subtle anise-cinnamon note, and the crunchy bits add playful texture and a garlicky perfume.

Feel free to eat those crumbs with your fingers. It’s not only allowed, but encouraged.

Chicken leg quarters roast in the oven in an unusual method.
A shower of crispy, garlicky panko crumbs go over the top for the final touch.

Low-and-Slow Spiced Chicken Legs with Garlic Crunch-Crumbles

(Serves 6)

6 chicken leg quarters (thigh and drumstick; about 4 1/2 pounds total)

Kosher salt

2 star anise pods

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns or more, to taste

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling

6 garlic cloves

1 cup panko bread crumbs

MSG or mushroom powder, for seasoning (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pat chicken legs dry and arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or in a large cast-iron skillet. Season generously on both sides with salt.

Break star anise pods into individual petals. Pulverize star anise, fennel seeds, and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle until a fine powder forms (you should have about 1 tablespoon; alternately, use a spice grinder). This will take many minutes of smashing and bashing if using a mortar and pestle. Get into it.

Drizzle chicken with oil to coat, then season on both sides with spice mixture, using all of it. Arrange skin side up and roast (without turning it) until skin is golden brown and crisp and the meat is extremely tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Tilt baking sheet and spoon accumulated juices and rendered fat over chicken, then roast 30 minutes more. Internal temperature of the chicken should be 165 to 170 degrees when done.

Meanwhile, finely grate or mince the garlic. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large (preferably nonstick) skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Add the panko, season with salt, and stir well to coat panko with oil. Cook, tossing often, until the panko is golden brown and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and toss to combine. The garlic is going to want to clump up and stick to itself; smash down on it with a wooden spoon to help break it up and get it to mix into the panko. Cook, tossing, until the garlic is light golden and crumbs are very fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes more. Don’t overbrown or burn the garlic, which will make it taste bitter. Season crunch-crumbs with MSG or mushroom powder, if using, and transfer to a plate to cool.

Cut chicken legs between joint to separate drumsticks from thighs; or keep them whole, if you like. Transfer to a platter. Drizzle any pan juices over, then let it rain crunch curmbs, piling them high.

Note: this recipe makes a generous amount of garlic crunch-crumbs. Save extra to sprinkle over any type of noodle dish, a tomato salad, steamed fish or eggplant, a bowl of beans, or roasted cauliflower.

Adapted from “That Sounds So Good” by Carla Lalli Music

Another Low-and-Slow Chicken Dish to Enjoy: Spicy Soy Chicken Wings

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5 comments

  • That has to be the most perfect name ever for a cookbook!

    I’m intrigued by this recipe, Carolyn. From your photo it does not at all look like it’s been overcooked, and those crumbs are just about leaping out of the monitor and into my mouth! Yet another “must try” from you here 🙂

  • Hi Carroll: Those crumbs, those crumbs! They would be so wonderful sprinkled over pasta or roasted broccoli, too. Enjoy! 😉

  • Yes! That sounds quite yummy! Will try soon!
    Thank you!

  • Hi Naomi: Let me know what you think when you try it. Enjoy! 😉

  • Neat recipe, but the crumbs steal the show! They sound really special — thanks.

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