crispy chicken with fennel, lemon & olives

This may be the last oven-based recipe I can share for awhile.  You see, earlier this evening, the boneless pork shoulder that had been slowly roasting away in my oven all day was just about done, when my oven gave up.

And by “gave up” I mean: Quit.  Stopped working.  Died. Said to me, “I don’t care that you have an 8 pound leg of lamb to roast and 12 people to feed on Sunday.”

The service company claims they’ll come on Saturday. But experience – which I sadly have (who designs ovens to have the computer chips between the stove burners and the broiler, pray tell??)- well, experience tells me that the person on Saturday will likely spend the time diagnosing a problem I’ve already told them I have, and will then reschedule the repair.  And I’ll be trying to figure out how to roast a joint of lamb and bake an Easter pie using a gas grill.

Is it sacrilegious to hope that I’m wrong, and that this Easter will also mark the resurrection of my oven??

Anyway, back before the oven began plotting its mutiny, I made this lovely braise that came from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc cookbook.  Ad Hoc is Thomas Keller’s “homecook-friendly” offering, and is far more approachable than his French Laundry cookbook (which does have its own gems, by the way.)  And yet, many of the recipes still require the products of other recipes, and they all benefit from careful attention to process and ingredients, and most take a fair bit of time.  This is, of course, what makes Thomas Keller one of  – if not the – premiere chefs in the country, so I’m not complaining.  But it was a pleasure to come across this recipe, which required no unusual ingredients, just a bit of hands on time, and could be finished off in about 30 minutes once it went into the oven.

What was even better was that it tasted like something that should have been more difficult.

Now, the instructions Keller provides in the book are much more specific and detailed than those I offer here.  I highly recommend checking the book out, if only because it is a great teacher regarding everything from ingredients to theory to precision prep.  But for a Sunday night dinner, I think my slightly messier version should suffice.

And, for those of you who think you hate fennel … this is not the caustic licorice flavor you’re expecting.  Cooking fennel mellows its flavor to a subtle sweetness, and the brine of the olives and acidity of the lemon balance that sweetness in a quite remarkable way.  Give it a try – if you still can’t take the texture, you can always push the fennel aside (as Husband did) and sop up the broth with the bread.  I admit we went back for seconds and thirds of that treat …

Crispy Chicken with Fennel, Lemon & Olives
(Serves 6, adapted from Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller)

12 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
vegetable oil

2 large fennel bulbs, stalks and fronds removed, bulbs cut into 3-inch by 1/2-inch matchsticks
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup large green olives, such as Ascolane, Cerignola or Lucques
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
4 strips lemon zest
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 375-degrees F. In a skillet or roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken thighs in a single layer, heat a thin layer of vegetable oil over medium-high hear until shimmering, but not yet smoking.  Season chicken on both sides with kosher salt, and place skin-side down in the heated roasting pan, and saute until browned – 4 to 6 minutes.  Turn the chicken pieces over and sear for another minute, then remove to a plate or cooling rack.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion to the pan.  Cook for about two minutes, then add the garlic.  Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about five minutes longer.  Stir in the fennel, turn the heat up to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the fennel is crisp-tender.

Add the wine to the pan, and simmer for about 2 minutes.  Stir in the olives, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and thyme sprigs, then add the chicken broth.  Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a simmer for about a minute.  Season to taste, then return the chicken pieces to the pan in a single layer, skin side up.  Return the contents to a simmer, then transfer to the oven.  Cook for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  Turn on the broiler and broil for about a minute or two, until the skin is crispy and brown.  Serve immediately, with plenty of sauce and bread to sop it up.


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