I love Fennel and at the Farmer’s Market in East Hampton, Sang Lee Farms,(www.sangleefarms.com) an organic farm on the North Fork, had gorgeous fennel bulbs with beautiful and highly aromatic fronds fully attached. You could smell the anise everywhere in the kitchen when I brought them home. This recipe was the first time that I’d cooked fennel the way Melissa does here. Melissa, for those of you who don’t read the New York Times, is a highly inventive cook whose foraging in her refrigerator always yields wonderful, flavorful and easy to achieve recipes that I love to try. Here, she slow cooks the fennel with some onions, then re-inforces the flavor with both fennel seeds and Pernod. The chicken thighs are browned and then their cooking is continued atop a bed caramelized fennel, onion and Pernod. The result would be one of the most monochromatic plates you’ve ever put on the table were it not for Melissa’s finishing touch: She purees the fronds with garlic, lemon zest and olive oil. It not only adds color to the dish. The garlic and lemon zest are a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the vegetables. It takes all of 45 minutes to get this dinner on the table, much of it passive as you slowly caramelize the fennel and onions. I added some roasted fingerling potatoes to our menu. I guess I just like monochromatic plates.
Braised Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Fennel
For some bizarre reason, we have not one but two almost completely full bottles of Pernod in our liquor cabinet. Pernod is that close cousin of Pastis, that liquid licorice that you drink quantities of whenever you’re in Provence and then never drink again when you come home. The cause of our having two Pernods on hand was likely a recipe calling for a tablespoon of the stuff and not checking our supplies before heading to the liquor store. Given my thrifty upbringing, it kills me not to be using it for something. So the minute I saw Melissa Clark’s recipe for Chicken with Caramelized Fennel, which calls for, yes, a tablespoon of Pernod, I leapt into action.
Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Braised Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Fennel
2 large fennel bulbs
1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Pernod
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice.
1. Trim fennel bulbs, and set aside fronds. In a blender or food processor, pulse about 1/2 cup fronds, garlic, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt until finely chopped. Add 1/3 cup oil and purée.
2. Halve fennel bulbs lengthwise. Slice thinly with a mandoline or very sharp knife.
3. Season chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. Brown chicken until skin is crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, leaving drippings in pan.
4. Stir fennel seeds into skillet and cook for 30 seconds. Add sliced fennel and onion, seasoning with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook, tossing occasionally, until vegetables are caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes. Add Pernod and scrape up any browned bits in the bottom of the skillet; cook until liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute.
5. Lay chicken on top of the fennel-onion mixture. Pour 3 tablespoons water into the pan. Cover skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until chicken is just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover and cook off any excess liquid if necessary. Stir in lemon juice.
6. Serve chicken and vegetables topped with generous dollops of the fennel frond purée.
Yield: 4 servings.