Monday, March 29, 2010

Crispy braised chicken with olives, lemon and fennel

Last weekend my friend Jeanne came to visit me in California.  I've been out here for over 5 years and she's the first friend to come out here to specifically visit me (other than family).  So exciting!!

In defense of everyone else in my life who cares for me, I was able to go home to Chicago at least 4 times a year while in grad school.  So there wasn't really a need for people to come out here.  Now that I'm done it's a bit harder for me to go back.  So I welcome visitors anytime!  There's still soooooo much I haven't explored in the area so visitors means being a tourist in my own hometown.

Anyways, when Jeanne was here we wanted to do a lot of our own cooking instead of eating out all the time.  She suggested we make a citrus fennel salad (recipe to come soon...) and that reminded me of this recipe for chicken with fennel I had bookmarked.  It's from Thomas Keller's cookbook Ad Hoc at Home.  (As in Keller, the chef of the uber fancy French Laundry.)  I don't own the book, but it sounds like delicious family style comfort food.  Although coming from Thomas Keller, this ain't no Paula Dean cookbook.

So we decided to stick with the fennel theme and make both recipes.

How did my first-time experience using a recipe from such a prolific chef go? Delicious!

But how could it not be awesome with the amazing combination of lemon, thyme and bay leaves?

Ohhhh, and fennel! Can't forget the fennel.

The recipe called for chicken thighs (skin on) but Trader Joes didn't have any. So we went with breasts instead.  It turned out great, but I'm a dark meat kinda girl, so I think I would have much preferred it with chicken thighs.

First thing you do is brown the chicken.  This does a few nice things:
1. Gives the chicken skin a nice crispiness to it.
2. Gives you chicken fat to work with.

mmmmmmmm, fat.

You don't throw away this precious fat.  Oh no no no. You use it to cook the onions in.

These onions look caramelized but they're not.  I've just used my spoon to try to pick up the brown bits off the pan.  That's where all the flavor is.

Don't worry if you can't get all the crusty deliciousness off the pan.  That's what the wine is for...

Then you throw in the fennel and cook until nice and soft.  If you've never cooked with fennel I'll give you some tips.
* The hairy tops can be saved for other purposes (cooking, decoration), but for this recipe you're only going to use the bulbs.

* Inside the bulbs there's a little part of the fennel that I don't think is really edible.  So you've got to cut it out.  To do that, split your bulb in half.

See that triangle in the middle that I've cut out? That's the part of the fennel you don't want.  (It's even more clear in person exactly where you need to cut.) Discard the inside and then just chop up the rest of the fennel bulb.

OK, back to cooking.  Once the fennel is done you throw in the rest of the ingredients (wine, thyme, lemon peel, bay leaves, olives, red pepper flakes, and chicken stock).

Then place the chicken (skin side up) on top of the veggies and pop it into the oven.  After ~20 minutes or so your chicken should be nice and tender on the inside with crispy skin on the outside.

Jeanne knows that when it comes to my meat there's one thing it has to be: JUICY!!  And even though I used chicken breast, which tends to dry out, I have to admit it was pretty damn moist.  I can only imagine how good it would be with chicken thighs.

Honestly the recipe was pretty awesome. Definitely an easy meal that's great with leftovers.  However, I will note that I think there was just a tad too much fennel in this dish for me.  I like fennel, but its hint of sweetness was a little more than I would have preferred.  But then again, I'm generally not a fan of sweet in my savory dishes.  I think I'd have preferred the dish with more onions and ~ 1/2 (or even less) of the fennel.

But hey, that's the greatness of this recipe.  The base technique is so simple but you can change ingredients up as much as you want.  Use potatoes or another root vegetable instead of the fennel.  Use rosemary instead of thyme.  Use orange instead of lemon.  Get rid of the olives, or use capers instead.  The possibilities really are endless. 

Buen Provecho,

Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel from Ad Hoc at Home (originally seen on Food Gal's blog)
(serves 6)

3 fennel bulbs
12 chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Canola oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup Ascolane or other large green olives, such as Cerignola
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 freshor 2 dried bay leaves
4 strips lemon zest –  removed with a vegetable peeler
8 thyme sprigs
1 cup chicken stock
About 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Cut off fennel stalks. Trim bottom of bulbs and peel back the layers until you reach the core; reserve the core for another use. Discard any bruised layers, and cut the fennel into 2-by-1/2-inch batons. You need 3 cups fennel for this recipe; reserve any remaining fennel for another use.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.

3. Season chicken thighs on both sides with salt. Heat some canola oil in a large ovenproof saute pan or roasting rack that will hold all the thighs in one layer over medium-high heat. Add thighs skin-side down and brown on the skin side, about 4 minutes. Turn thighs over and cook for about 1 minute to sear the meat. Transfer to the cooling rack.

4. Reduce heat to medium-low, add onion to the pan, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in fennel, turn heat up to medium, and cook, stirring often, until fennel is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.

5. Pour in wine and simmer for about 2 minutes to burn off alcohol. Stir in olives, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, lemon zest, and thyme, then pour in chicken stock. Increase heat, bring liquid to a simmer, and cook until fennel is tender, about 1 minute.

6. Taste the stock and season with salt as needed. Return chicken to the pan skin-side-up, in a single layer. When the liquid returns to a simmer, transfer to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

7. Turn on the broiler, and put pan under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp and brown the skin. Remove from oven, and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley leaves.


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