This dish was a regional winner in the second annual Foster Farms Chicken Cooking Contest. Jennifer Daskevich of Los Angeles created the recipe for chicken thighs with quinoa, figs, spinach and mint. Foster Farms contestant Roxanne Chan of Albany, Calif., whipped up Asian braised chicken thighs with soybean salad.There's a long-standing debate when it comes to chicken: breasts or thighs, light or dark? We know that white meat has less fat and calories, but it also has less flavor pizazz.A hundred grams of skinless (roasted) chicken thigh, about 3 1/2 ounces, contains 209 calories and has 10.9 grams of fat. Compare that with the same amount of skinless (roasted) chicken breast at 165 calories and 3.57 grams of fat. In terms of saturated fat, that amount of thigh meat contains 2 grams more than the breast — 3 grams instead of 1 gram.But nutritional profiles don't tell the whole story. Chicken thighs are moister and offer a richer, more distinct taste. Because it is more satisfying flavor-wise, I categorize that dark meat as one of those eat-smaller-portion-but-enjoy-it-more ingredients. Plus, when it comes to my food budget, it's hard to ignore that thighs are a much bigger bargain than breasts.Chicken thighs even gave me a pleasant surprise late last year, when I was judging the California regional finals of the second annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest in San Diego. Out of the six competitors, the two winning finalists used chicken thighs rather than breasts.Their dark-meat dishes qualified them to compete in the finals held in the Napa Valley and garnered each a $1,000 prize. Jennifer Daskevich of Los Angeles excelled with her chicken and quinoa with figs, spinach and mint, as did Roxanne Chan of Albany, Calif., with her Asian braised chicken thighs with edamame salad.I asked Samuel Cohen, director of marketing for Foster Farms' Ready to Cook Division, if the use of chicken thighs is a growing trend among home cooks.“During 2011, retail sales of fresh chicken have grown 4.2 percent,” he said. “Home cooks are increasingly turning to boneless, skinless chicken thighs as their go-to protein for the great taste, convenience and value. This cut has grown in popularity and sales, which are up 15 percent from 2010. Leaner than many cuts of pork and beef, chicken thighs provide great flavor and juiciness.”Those boneless, skinless thighs are so versatile. I like to use them in braised dishes, stir-fries and soups. In these types of dishes, the thigh's skin can get rubbery and releases too much fat, so skinless is definitely the way to go.But cookbook author, teacher and PBS culinary star Jacques Pepin has a technique for cooking bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs that really changed the way I cook that cut. He cooks them skin-side-down in a dry skillet. The pan is covered after they start to sizzle, and the little darlings cook in the rendered fat, turning a beautiful golden brown with supercrisp skin.Pepin makes a little incision in the meat on either side of the thigh bone before cooking them, preventing the “pink next to the bone” problem. And most of the fat is removed from the pan before he prepares a simple fresh mushroom sauce to accompany the meat.Jacques Pepin and the California finalists in the Foster Farms contest prefer chicken thighs over breasts. But when it came to the final competition, Rebecca Spence of Vancouver, Wash., won the $10,000 grand prize (plus one year's supply of chicken) by showcasing chicken breasts.Her recipe for crispy orange chicken with fennel, avocado and orange salad beat out the other five finalists' dishes. But guests in attendance at the competition selected Daskevich's chicken thighs with quinoa and figs for the People's Choice Award for the best use of local ingredients.So the question of which is better, breast or thigh? It depends on the dish, the cooking technique, and well, your palate's preference.CHICKEN AND QUINOA WITH FIGS, SPINACH AND MINTYield: 4 servings6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into bite-size chunks 6 sprigs fresh thyme, divided use 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use 1 large lemon, zested and juiced 6 garlic cloves, divided use 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped, divided use 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 3 teaspoons salt, divided use 1 cup uncooked quinoa, see cook's notes 2 large shallots, minced 1/2 cup dried mission figs, halved 2 cups water, divided use 3 cups fresh spinach, choppedCook's notes: Quinoa, pronounced KEEN-wah, looks like a grain, but is the fruit of a broadleaf plant, so it is a seed. It is completely gluten free. Look for it in the natural-foods sections at supermarkets, generally packaged in small boxes.Procedure: In large plastic bag with zipper lock top, place chicken. Remove leaves from three sprigs of thyme and mince. In small bowl, whisk together 5 tablespoons olive oil, juice and zest from lemon, two minced garlic cloves, thyme, 1 tablespoon chopped mint, black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Pour mixture over chicken, turning to coat well. Set aside and marinate 30 minutes or up to one hour. Place quinoa in sieve and rinse with cold water; drain thoroughly. In medium saucepan over medium heat, toast quinoa for two minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 3/4 cups water to quinoa; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 1 2 to 1 5 minutes. Remove quinoa from heat and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, while quinoa is cooking, warm remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat in large skillet. Add shallot and remaining salt; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic and stir for additional minute. Add figs, remaining 1/4 cup of water and remaining 3 stems of thyme. Cook until liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Remove chicken from marinade and add to fig mixture. Continue to cook over medium heat until chicken is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Remove sprigs of thyme. Fluff quinoa with fork and transfer to skillet. Stir well to combine. Add spinach and remaining mint, stirring gently to incorporate all ingredients.Nutrition information (per serving): 300 calories (45 percent from fat), 1 5 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 23 g carbohydrates, 1 8 g protein, 480 mg sodium, 4 g fiber Source: Jennifer Daskevich of Los Angeles, finalist in the second annual Foster Farms Chicken Cooking ContestASIAN BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH EDAMAME SALADYield: 4 servings6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth 1/3 cup bottled green salsa 1 lime, zested and juiced 1 green onion, minced 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1 teaspoon green curry paste 1 teaspoon sodium-reduced soy sauce 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced 1 cup shelled edamame (soybeans), cooked, see cook's notes 2 cups watercress, chopped 1/4 cup grated carrot 1/4 cup sliced red radishes 1/2 cup baby corn, chopped 1 tablespoon Asian (roasted) sesame oil 1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegarCook's notes: Cooked edamame (soybeans) are sold frozen or cooked-and-chilled in the produce section.Procedure: In blender, combine chicken broth, salsa, lime juice, green onion, cilantro, garlic, curry paste, soy sauce and ginger. Blend until smooth. Place mixture in medium size skillet; add chicken. Bring chicken to a low simmer over medium heat, cover and cook 35 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, until chicken is tender and cooked throughout. While chicken is cooking, prepare salad by combining in large bowl edamame, watercress, carrot, radishes, baby corn, sesame oil and vinegar. Stir to combine. Place cooked chicken on serving platter; cover with pan sauce. Garnish with lime zest. Surround chicken with watercress and soybean salad. Nutrition information (per serving): 370 calories (38 percent from fat), 15g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 5 1 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 530 mg sodium, 4.4 g fiber Source: Roxanne Chan of Albany, finalist in the second annual Foster Farms Chicken Cooking ContestJACQUES PEPIN'S CRUSTY CHICKEN THIGHS WITH MUSHROOM SAUCEYield: 4 servings4 large chicken thighs, about 1 3/4 pounds total, skin on 3/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 cup diced onion 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic 3 cups washed and diced white mushrooms or cremini mushrooms 1/3 cup dry white wine 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green portion of green onionProcedure: Arrange chicken thighs skin side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, trim off any excess skin at the edges and cut about 1/2-inch deep into the flesh on either side of the thigh bone. (This will help the meat cook more quickly.) Sprinkle the thighs with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and arrange them skin side down in one layer in a nonstick skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Place skillet over high heat and when thighs start sizzling reduce heat to medium, cover tightly and cook for 16 to 18 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the chicken is browning properly. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 150 degrees. If chicken seems to be cooking too fast after 10 minutes or so, reduce heat to low. The skin of the chicken should be very crisp and brown. Transfer the chicken, skin side up, to an ovenproof platter and place in oven. Discard all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet in which you cooked the chicken. Add onion, garlic and mushrooms; sauté over high heat for about 3 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on the mushrooms and then add the wine and any liquid that has accumulated around the thighs on the platter. Cook the sauce over high heat for about 1 minute to reduce liquid. To serve, divide the sauce among 4 plates. Place thigh in the middle of mushroom sauce on each plate, spoon some sauce over and sprinkle on chives and serve.Nutrition information (per serving): 330 calories (46 percent from fat), 1 7 g fat, 4.1 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 24 g protein, 470 mg sodium, 2 g fiber Source: Jacques Pepin, “Jacques Pepin More Fast Food My Way” (Houghton Mifflin, $32)CRISPY ORANGE CHICKEN WITH FENNEL, AVOCADO AND ORANGE SALADYield: 4-6 servings1 to 1 1/2 pounds thin-sliced chicken breast filets 1 tablespoon orange juice 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar (may substitute white wine vinegar) 2 teaspoons sugar Zest from 2 large navel oranges (reserve one orange) 2 teaspoons salt, divided use 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided use 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed 1 large avocado 1 fresh serrano chili 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 eggs 2 cups panko breadcrumbs 1/3 cup peanut oilCook's notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies; upon completion, wash hands and work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch face or eyes.Procedure: In large bowl, whisk together orange juice, vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Set aside. Cut peel and white pith away from reserved zested orange; cut orange into small cubes. Chop fennel bulb into small cubes. Peel avocado, remove pit and chop into small cubes. Cut chili in half lengthwise, remove and discard seeds and finely mince. Place orange pieces, fennel, avocado and chili in bowl containing dressing; toss gently and refrigerate while preparing chicken. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place flour in shallow bowl; combine with remaining salt and pepper. In second shallow bowl, beat eggs well with fork. Place panko breadcrumbs in third shallow bowl; stir in zest from one orange. In large skillet over medium high heat, warm peanut oil. Dredge each chicken filet in flour mixture, then dip in eggs and coat with pankoorange mixture. Place coated chicken in hot oil and sauté, turning, about 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked throughout. Remove chicken with tongs and place on baker's rack over a rimmed baking sheet in oven to keep warm. To serve, place salad on plates. Top each salad with one or two chicken fillets.Nutrition information (per serving): 360 calories (38 percent from fat), 1 5 g fat, 3.1 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 1 0.1 g carbohydrates, 45 g protein, 59 1 mg sodium, 2.3 g fiber Source: Rebecca Spence of Vancouver, Wash., winner of the second annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest.