The Limit & The Luxury of The Recipe

Have you ever made a recipe so often that it begins to evolve? Maybe you start combining two versions of a recipe, taking what you like best from each. Or you use an ingredient in a different way and it ends up being better. However it comes about, you find yourself finessing, rather than following (directions). Congratulations, you have leveled up your cooking skills!

In my experience, cooks (and I am speaking about home cooks here, because I don’t feel qualified to make generalizations about our professional counterparts) generally fall on a spectrum that ranges from those who follow recipes to those who do not. For some, recipes are commandments not to be ignored, lest the culinary gods bring down the holy hell of a broken sauce, an over-spiced soup, or a rubbery scallop, on your next dinner party. Others intuit their way through the process. To them, recipes are suggestions, inspiration. I envy these people because I have always been in the former camp. That said, I would love for my cooking to be easy, casual; a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Taste, adjust, and voila! Instead, I am reading a recipe, then reading it again, and mentally checking off each step as I go. I am pretty good at following recipes while leaving a little room for inspiration, so my dishes generally turn out well. However, I am not doing anything original or innovative and I am not really challenging myself. More recently though, I have noticed that I feel more comfortable veering off the rails, and I believe it is because of the simple fact that at this point in my life, there are certain dishes that I have made a lot.

Chicken Piccata is one of them. Sometimes I use Ina’s recipe and sometimes I use Giada’s recipe. I like the crunchiness of Ina’s cutlets and the silkiness of Giada’s sauce. I like lemons and capers, so why not use both? I like a lot of sauce, so why not use chicken stock, wine and lemon juice? Let’s live a little! 

Traditional Chicken Piccata

Small adjustments such as the above are great, but sometimes a whole “new” recipe is born. Wanting to preserve the spirit of chicken picatta, but use my preferred chicken parts (bone-in thighs) and give Andrew a break on dish duty, I created a sheet pan version I am calling Piccata’ed Baked Chicken Thighs.

Piccata’ed Baked Chicken Thighs

This is a simple, easy recipe that requires only a few ingredients and pretty straightforward steps. It is also a recipe that benefits from some prep ahead of time (the salting) though this is not strictly necessary.

Serves 4

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 lemon
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 heaping tablespoon capers
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken stock

If able, salt the chicken a couple hours ahead of time with about half a teaspoon of salt per thigh and leave uncovered on a plate in the refrigerator.

Mash up the garlic and capers in a medium bowl with the juice of half the lemon. Season generously with salt and pepper. Taste. This should be almost too salty and tart.

Add the chicken and a few glugs of olive oil and toss. Let sit at room temp for 30 mins while you preheat the oven to 425 F.

Stuff some of the garlicky, capery marinade under the skin of each thigh along with a thin lemon slice from the other half of your lemon.

Arrange the chicken on a foil-lined half- or quarter-sheet pan then dump the remaining marinade all over.

Add the chicken stock to the pan and cook for 30-45 mins. The chicken is done when it reaches 165 F.

Serve with rice, pasta or mashed potatoes, spooning the sauce from the pan all over.

Non-traditional but still delicious. Cries out for some crusty bread for dipping!


I am happy that I am at a place in my cooking journey where I can start to improvise more and use the skills that I have learned by following recipes to branch out and make food that I can be especially proud of as my own. Occasionally I hope to share these recipes on the blog under the title “Hungry Ginger Original.” Keep an eye out!

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