Cumin-Crusted Chicken Thighs with Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

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Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 8

This is an amazing recipe. Cumin, smoked paprika and other bold spices in the rub come together with a chunky salsa of tomatillos, chili, lime and cilantro to deliver an explosion of flavors that complement the chicken.


For the cumin crust rub:

  • 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) canola oil

For the tomatillo salsa:

  • 7 large tomatillos, papery husks removed, tomatillos cut in half
  • 1 jalapeño chili, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (3/4 oz./20 g) chopped fresh cilantro
  • Kosher salt, to taste


To make the cumin crust rub, in a small fry pan over low heat, toast the cumin, stirring often, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Pour onto a plate and let cool. In a small container with a tight-fitting lid, stir together the cumin, paprika, brown sugar, coriander, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Cover and shake vigorously to mix. You will need 1/4 cup (1 oz./30g) of the rub for this recipe. Reserve the rest for another use; it will keep for up to 1 month, stored in a cool, dark place.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken thighs and canola oil and toss to coat evenly. Transfer the chicken to a platter and sprinkle evenly on all sides with the cumin rub. Set aside at room temperature.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling over medium heat; the temperature inside the grill should be 350º to 375ºF (180º to 190ºC). If using charcoal, bank the lit coals on either side of the grill bed, leaving a strip in the center without heat, and place a drip pan in the center. If using gas, preheat the burners, then turn off 1 or more of the burners to create a cooler zone. Brush and oil the grill grate.

To make the salsa, place the tomatillos and chili over the direct-heat area of the grill. (You’ll probably need a grill screen for the chili or you’ll lose it through the grate.) Cook, turning as needed, until well charred on all sides, about 3 minutes. Transfer the tomatillos and chili to a blender, add the lime juice and olive oil and pulse until combined but still chunky. Transfer to a bowl, fold in the cilantro and season with salt. You should have about 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml). (The salsa can be made up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Place the chicken thighs, meaty side down, over the indirect-heat area of the grill. Cook, turning once, until the chicken is nicely grill-marked on both sides and firm to the touch, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh, away from the bone, registers 170ºF (77ºC), 10 to 15 minutes per side.

Transfer the chicken to a platter and let rest for 10 minutes, then serve with the tomatillo salsa. Serves 4 to 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Grill Master, by Fred Thompson (Weldon Owen, 2011).

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