Harissa Chicken Thighs (Trader Joe’s Copycat)

One of the best things to come out of 2020 was my discovery of Trader Joe’s Harissa Chicken Thighs. Now, hear me out. I have never been a proponent of pre-marinated meats in the grocery store. Typically, they’re loaded with extra fillers, sodium, sugar, etc. which is part of the reason they taste so good. However, Trader Joe’s seemingly does it right. There are a few strange ingredients in the marinade, but overall it’s pretty clean and the taste is absolutely ridiculously good.

You may be wondering, “Why change a good thing?” I’ll tell you why. I don’t live particularly close to Trader Joe’s. In fact, every trip is at least 30 minutes one-way, plus waiting in line for pandemic reasons (since all of their stores are the size of matchboxes), plus checking out, driving home, and unloading. It’s a TRIP.

You can probably see why I endeavored to create my own version of these delicious spicy morsels of chicken and let me tell you… I’m so glad I did.

Ingredients needed to make Harissa Chicken Thighs

If you’ve never heard of harissa, you’re not alone. Loads of people I talk to are either unsure of what it is or afraid of its spice level. Traditionally used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking, harissa is a widely used paste of roasted hot and sweet peppers, garlic, warm spices, salt, and a few other ingredients. It’s incredibly flavorful and, while it carries some heat, is not overpowering in this recipe.

Obviously, you’ll need to get your hands on a jar to make these chicken thighs. I would not recommend substituting anything else for the harissa in this dish. Trader Joe’s sells a delicious harissa, but it can also be found in most mainstream grocery stores in the specialty or international foods aisles. I’ve also linked one here which is available on Amazon.

Here’s everything you’ll need:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Orange juice
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Water
  • Harissa
  • Avocado oil
  • Honey
  • Cilantro

Tools used to make Harissa Chicken Thighs

I love cooking chicken because of how easy it is (and so few dishes!). This recipe comes together using only a few kitchen tools, which I’m certain you already have in your kitchen. You’ll need the following: a large storage container with lid (or gallon-sized plastic bag), a small saucepan, measuring cups and spoons, one mixing bowl, a pair of tongs, a baking sheet, and an instant-read meat thermometer. That’s it!

How to make Harissa Chicken Thighs

There is a little fuss when it comes to this recipe, but most of the cook time is actually spent hands-off as passive time. We’ll start by making a quick citrus brine for our thighs, which is exactly what Trader Joe’s processing plant does to make their harissa chicken thighs. To do this, simply combine water, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan and heat it until both are dissolved. Add some citrus juice (in this case orange and lime), cover the chicken, and let it sit for 30-40 minutes. When I make these chicken thighs, I typically use that brining time to make the rest of the components of whatever meal I’m making.

Chicken thighs resting in the quick citrus brine

Next, you’ll transfer the chicken thighs to a mixing bowl with the harissa, avocado oil, and honey, stirring to coat them all evenly. We add a decent amount of oil here to ensure that our thighs achieve some level of browning in the oven. The small amount of honey helps with that too.

Chicken thighs covered in harissa, avocado oil, and honey

Before preheating the oven, you’ll want to place a clean sheet tray inside of the oven. As the oven preheats, the sheet tray will heat up with it. When we add our chicken thighs to the hot sheet pan, this will start the process of browning the bottoms immediately. It’s a great trick I use anytime I want caramelization (tip: I love using this method for oven-baked fries).

The chicken will cook for anywhere from 13 to 20 minutes. Cook time depends a lot on how large your chicken thighs are. This recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of chicken thighs. If the pack comes with only 2-3 larger thighs that make up those 1.5 pounds, then your cook time will likely be closer to the 20 minute mark. 4-5 thighs per pack, and you’re going to want to air on the side of 13 minutes to avoid over-cooking. Rely on your meat thermometer and you’ll achieve perfectly cooked chicken every time!

Once the chicken is cooked through, transfer it to a serving plate and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. I love serving this chicken over rice with lots of vegetables, or on a chopped salad with other Middle Eastern flavors. Enjoy!

Looking for other delicious chicken recipes?

Give these dishes a try from The Ardent Cook archives!

Favorite Roast Chicken

Gorgonzola-Stuffed Chicken with Delicata Squash

Roasted Apricot Chicken

Red Curry Pulled Chicken with Turmeric-Lime Rice

Harissa Chicken Thighs are a unique addition to any meal

Recipe Ingredients

1.5lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

½ cup water

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp coconut sugar 

½ cup orange juice, unsweetened

Juice of 1 lime

⅓ cup harissa paste

¼ cup avocado oil

1 tbsp honey

Cilantro, for serving

Recipe Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, salt, and coconut sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar and salt are just dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the orange juice and lime juice. Let cool for 5-10 minutes. 
  2. In a large storage container with a lid (or gallon-sized plastic bag), add the chicken and brine. Let sit at room temperature for 30-40 minutes. 
  3. After the time has passed, combine the harissa, avocado oil, and honey in a large mixing bowl. Remove the chicken from the brine and transfer to the mixing bowl to coat in the harissa mixture. 
  4. Preheat the oven to 425 and place a baking sheet in the oven while it preheats. Once the oven has reached temperature, remove the baking sheet and place the chicken directly onto the hot sheet. Return to the oven and bake for 13-20 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  5. Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with fresh cilantro. Enjoy!

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4 Comments

  1. This looks delicious!! I have some thighs in my freezer and will try this recipe this week. Thank you

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