Fennel has always been one of my favorite vegetables, and fennel seed a favorite spice. But it’s not easy to work either one into too many dishes because the flavor is so similar to licorice (or anise). Sometimes when I think I might take the chance to sneak a little bit of fennel into an otherwise ordinary meal, I experience immediate anxiety that it will ruin the dish for the rest of my family.
Here’s a stress-free dish that demands a rather bold use of fennel and combined with bitter orange, a most delicious flavor, is born.
Although fennel originated in the Mediterranean, it has since spread around the world and grows mostly in coastal climates. There are almost too many health benefits to mention. Perhaps that’s why its essence can be found in so many oral hygiene products. Whether you have anemia or menstrual disorders or indigestion, constipation, diarrhea or respiratory disorders, fennel is good for you.
This dish serves 6. Here’s what you need:
- 2 large bulbs of fennel (about 2 ¼ pounds total, though less is fine)
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon or so for drizzling on the chicken when cooking
- The zest and juice of 2 Seville oranges (scant ½ cup juice), or zest and juice of 1 eating orange and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher
- 4 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 12 chicken thighs, either with or without skin and bones, preferably organic
Remove the fronds from the fennel and put them in a resealable bag in the refrigerator for serving. You can discard the tubey bits of fennel, but if you have a roasting pan big enough, use everything. Cut the bulbs of fennel into quarters and then cut each quarter, lengthways, into 3. Leave on the cutting board while you get on with the marinade.
Placing a large resealable bag in position inside a wide-necked measuring cup or similar, pour in the oil, add the orange zest and juice (and lemon juice, if using), and spoon in the salt, fennel seeds, and mustard. Stir briefly to mix. Remove the bag from the cup and, holding it up, add a quarter of the chicken pieces, followed by a quarter of the fennel pieces, and so on until everything’s been used up.
Seal the bag tightly at the top, lay the bag in something like a lasagna dish, and squelch it about so you can make the small amount of marinade cover as much of the chicken as possible. It will look as if it isn’t enough, but it is. Leave in the refrigerator overnight or up to 1 day.
When you want to cook, remove the marinating chicken and fennel from the refrigerator and tip the contents of the bag – marinade and all – into a large shallow roasting pan (use a half sheet pan with a lip of ½ inch). Using tongs, or whatever you prefer, arrange the chicken pieces so they are sitting, skin-side up, on top of the fennel. Leave it for 30 minutes or so, to come up to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Drizzle some more golden oil onto the chicken, and cook in the oven for 1 hour, by which time the fennel will be soft and the chicken cooked through and bronzed on top.
Put the chicken and fennel onto a warmed serving plate and put the pan over a medium heat (use a saucepan if your pan isn’t stove-friendly) and boil the juices, stirring as you watch it turn syrupy; this should take about 1 ½-2 minutes in the pan, and about 5 in a saucepan.
Pour the reduced sauce over the chicken and fennel, and then tear over the reserved fennel fronds. Cool leftovers, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Source: Simply Nigella Feel Good Food