Stuffing cheese into a chicken thigh doesn’t necessarily sound like a wise idea, but when the cheese in question is panir, a dry non-melting Indian cheese, all is well. We found this dish in a recently acquired cookbook, Modern Spice (on clearance at Village Books!), which is full of wonderful recipes that fuse Indian flavors with the American pantry. In this case bone-in chicken parts are stuffed with Indian herbs and spices mixed with Indian cheese, but baked in the oven instead of being simmered in liquid on the stovetop, as with so much Indian cookery. The chicken gets crispy on top, and the stuffing takes on the flavor of the bird as well as that lovely cheesy toastiness and a kick of chile heat.
Panir is crucial to this recipe, since no other cheese behaves quite like it (maybe halloumi?), but if you can’t find panir you could still make all the other ingredients into a rub for roasted chicken parts. What’s not to like about butter, chiles, ginger, garlic and cilantro?
A fusiony sort of dish like this didn’t seem to need a traditional Indian accompaniment, so we recreated a salad we invented on our Paris vacation, caramelizing finely diced fennel in a skillet and stirring in chopped ripe tomatoes. Pure essence of summer, it played beautifully off the spicy cheese and chicken. With a bright Sangiovese rosé, this was a very successful summer-to-autumn transitional dinner.
Panir-stuffed Chicken Thighs
adapted from Modern Spice by Monica Bhide
- 4 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 garlic clove, pressed
- piece of ginger, grated
- 1 Tbsp melted butter
- 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup finely grated panir
- 2 serrano chiles, red or green, minced
- 2 Tbsp cilantro, minced
- 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp red chile flakes (our serranos were so hot we left these out)
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Combine the butter, 1 tsp salt, ginger and garlic. Loosen the skin on the thighs, then rub the paste all over the chicken.
Combine the panir, chiles, cilantro, turmeric, chile flakes and the remaining 1/4 tsp salt. Stuff this mixture under the skin of each thigh. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, skin side up.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cooked through and the skin is crispy on top. You can either baste the thighs halfway through, or use my technique of just turning them in their juices with tongs.