An intriguing combination of spices were blended together, consisting of smoky cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, dried mint, salt, garlic powder and for a hint of heat, a few sprinkles of cayenne pepper to be used in two spots. You'll need to get your hands dirty for the first use as half of it is rubbed all over the thigh meat - I used boneless, skinless because that's what we had, but you can amp up the flavor by using bone-in thighs. I'd still remove the skin though!
With the chicken seasoned, we took the meat and seared it off in a hot skillet until both sides gain a golden color. This takes just a minute or two as you're not trying to cook the thighs through at all - just caramelizing the outside, intensifying their natural essence. Scooting the meat out, the same skillet, riddled with tasty browned bits on the bottom, can then be used to soften a chopped onion and red bell pepper. To push in a bit of salt along with those two vegetables, a quick splash of soy sauce went in, which also adds the liquid needed to help release those browned bits.
A clove of fresh garlic is added, which when heated through is followed by pearl barley, fire-roasted tomatoes, the remaining spice mixture and a few cups of chicken broth. The browned chicken is then cozily nestled into the skillet, making for a bubbly warm bed to cook the ingredients through. With this type of barely, the time needed will be at least a good forty-five minutes, but luckily, this is all downtime as you won't need to mess with it at all. This should leave you with time to clean up, sit down and relax, with drink in hand if you like.
As the mixture simmered while I was taking a break, I soon noticed an aromatic fist lifting from the skillet, aiming to shoot my nostrils with the smell of pure comfort. Unfortunately though, as I sat there un-patiently salivating at the thought of eating, the dish still needed to sit and rest for fifteen minutes off heat. Give in to this time as the flavors will blend and meld.
With the thighs almost absurdly tender, Jeff and I tore through plates of this in nearly (shamefully) record time! Complex, yet completely relatable at the same time, I was a little surprised with how much we enjoyed the cinnamon and mint in this - subtle, yet they were notable and well received. The barley, suspended in the juices the chicken and tomatoes exuded, were plump and tender, yet still retained their classic chewy texture to bulk up each serving. While I'd give this bonus points for the gratification it gave alone, the fact that this was completely made all in one skillet, making for easy clean up, certainly deserves recognition on its own!
Smothered Chicken and Barley