Thursday, March 7, 2013

Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel



I have a lot of cookbooks. A lot. They don't all get the same quality of love. Some are just pretty to look at, others are great to reference, while others spend more time in my kitchen than I can count. Although I enjoy writing my own recipes, I am often looking for recipes to try from my favorite cookbooks because even though I do know a thing or two about developing recipes, sometimes I look to the masters to offer up something that is already flawless. Thomas Keller fits the bill perfectly.


His Ad Hoc at Home is the holy grail for any home cook. It may not be quite as refined as The French Laundry Cookbook, for example, but it uses the same elements for creating explosive flavors in a more homey atmosphere. It works better for me since I can't possible feed my family 3 Michelin Star quality food on a daily basis. Life just doesn't work that way.


These crispy braised chicken thighs are a perfect weeknight meal. They don't require as much time to prepare as some other braises do, and the flavor is excellent. The typically potent fennel softens in flavor as it cooks down in the enriched broth.


Strips of lemon zest (I used a whole lemon's worth instead of the 4 strips required), fresh thyme, bay leaves, onion, garlic, chili flakes, and briny olives all create layers of flavor in the braising liquid. Beware of oversalting because the olives themselves offer up quite a bit of salt in their own right. I used large pitted olives and would halve them in the future to cut down a bit on the bite they offer.


I used some fennel fronds to garnish instead of the parsley called for in the recipe. Nearly anything green would be fine, though.


Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel
Serves 6
(From Ad Hoc at Home)

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 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
4 strips lemon zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
8 thyme sprigs
1 cup chicken stock
About 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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