I used to hate fennel too. I hated it’s liquorice essence and chalky texture. I hated the word fennel, it sounded so dirty and plain. Like a white cardboard ball that had been buried in a stinky shed in some horrible post-industrial Manchester suburb. I almost never ordered roasted pork in restaurants, because invariably it was paired with fennel. Then one day, the heavens parted and the fennel lord spoke unto me saying, “You will eat this roasted fennel bulb and it will be good.” That actually happened, I swear. Since then, I’ve essentially become a preacher of fennel. Maybe I’m a food snob, but it really pissed me off when someone says, ohh I don’t like that. Sure, okay some foods might inspire violent hatred, but I’m pretty confident that my roasted fennel frons can win over any heathen fennel-hater.
Though I am a convert to it, I can still understand the aversion to raw fennel. This chicken dish however, elegantly highlights the rich sweet flavor of cooked fennel with some extra crispy fronds on top. The recipe is from Thomas Keller’s excellent book, Ad Hoc at Home…but please contain your laughter as you look at the iphone picture below I took of the recipe. As you can see, I could barely make out the ingredients, let alone the directions…so I improvised a bit.
I also forgot to buy chicken stock, so had to use the two week old beef broth, which had probably turned, from the back of the fridge. I made mine with onions, but I think they take away from the fennel flavor, so next time I’ll leave them out. Cerignola olives add some color and I’m obsessed with olives, but you could leave those out too. I was actually not entirely thrilled with the way this dish came out, but that might be because I don’t really like chicken very much and dark meat is my least favorite. The recipe called for chicken thighs with the bone in, but I think chicken breasts would be a lot better, especially if you can find them with some skin still on.
I’ve also been thinking about the cooking/shopping process a lot and how it always seems like I’m forgetting something. I’m going to try and help you out a bit by grouping the ingredients in clusters to make your shopping a bit easier. I know grocery shopping might not be the most fun thing in the world for some…but for me, it’s therapy, a message, a vacation and an adventure. I could spend hours upon hours in Chelsea Market!
Roasted Chicken on a Bed of Fennel with Roasted Fennel on top
You will need:
From the produce section/farmer’s market:
2 large bulbs of fennel
5 cloves garlic
3 sprigs thyme (or use dried thyme from your pantry if you don’t want to make the $2.00 investment for just one dish)
Freshly chopped parsley – to sprinkle on top at the end
From the grocery store/specialty food store:
½ cup Cerignola olives (these are the sweet, bright green ones with pits)
6 chicken thighs (or 4 breasts)
1 cup good white wine
1 cup chicken broth
From your pantry:
4 tbs olive oil – or less
2 bay leaves
1 tiny punch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375. Cut the giant stalks off the fennel if your produce guy (or lady) didn’t already do it for you which they should have if they charge by pound…produce bastards. Cut each bulb down the center so the core remains in tact. Slice thinly so you end up with little wedges. Also chop the onions and garlic and set aside. Take 1 handful of the wedges and toss onto a baking sheet. Drench in olive oil and coarse sea salt and bake at 375 for 20-30 min. If you put these in at this stage, the timing should work out nicely.
2. In a large sauce pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium/high heat. Place the chicken pieces skin-side down and cook for 4 minutes, don’t disturb them so a nice crust forms. Flip over and cook the other side for 1 minute. You are just browning the chicken at this phase, not cooking it through.
3. Take the chicken out and set aside. In the same pan, add more olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic and fennel together for about ten minutes and add salt and pepper. Then add the red pepper flakes, bay leaves and more salt and pepper…and the wine and broth. Cook for another five minutes. Add the chicken and stick in the oven for 20 minutes. Then, turn on your broiler and crisp up the chicken for two minutes before you serve it.
I served this with pesto pasta and a caprese salad…but I think it would go really well over some fluffy white or brown rice, which will soak up the broth nicely.