Saturday, April 17, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Thomas Keller's Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Fennel, Olives, and Lemon

We've had summer and winter in one week here in Boston, going from warm, glorious weather early in the week to a dreary, rainy 45 degrees today.  In between, the autumnal scent of braised fennel filled our house as I prepared the crispy braised chicken with fennel, olives, and lemon recipe from Thomas Keller's flawless Ad Hoc at Home for a little impromptu dinner party.

It was fabulous.  I loved the contrast between the crispy, fried skin and the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the braised dark meat.  And while I don't usually like the anise-flavor of fennel, the chicken and lemon flavors really took the edge off the fennel, leaving behind only a slightly sweet, almost onion-y flavor.

I served this with spaghettini lightly tossed with olive oil, heirloom grape tomatoes, spinach, and garlic, and a side dish of Keller's smashed marble potatoes.  Easy, pretty, and delicious!

On a different note, chicken thighs are not only a flavorful and tender cut of meat, they are also really affordable.  Even at Whole Foods, the twelve thighs I purchased cost less than $9.  Our house is entertainment central, and we're always having people over for dinner, so I will definitely be keeping this in rotation for an economical way to cook for a group.

Here's what you need:
  • 3 large fennel bulbs
  • 12 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • Canola oil
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 3/4 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 broth
  • About 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves (for garnish -- I left this out and it was fine)

Cut off the fennel stalks. Trim the bottom of the 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 of fennel for this recipe; reserve any remaining fennel for another use.

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

Season the chicken thighs on both sides with a pinch of salt. Heat a thin layer of canola oil in a large ovenproof sauté or roasting pan that will hold all the thighs in one layer over medium-high heat. Add the thighs skin side down and lightly brown, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat of the oil in the pan. Turn the thighs over and cook for about 1 minute to sear the meat. Transfer to the cooling rack.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion to the pan, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the fennel, turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring often, until the fennel is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.

Pour in the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Stir in the olives, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, lemon zest and thyme, then pour in the chicken broth. Increase the heat, bring the liquid to a simmer, and cook until the fennel is tender, about 1 minute.

Taste the broth and season with salt as needed. Return the 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 the chicken is cooked through. (The meat will be firm and the juices will run clear, and a thermometer inserted should read 165 degrees.)

Turn on the broiler, and put the pan under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp and brown the chicken skin. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with the parsley leaves.


Christina,  April 19, 2010 at 5:15 PM  

That looks SUPER YUMMY! I'll have to try that out! Too bad I'm too lazy to cook most days!

Kimberly Michelle April 22, 2010 at 2:18 PM  

Glad to know that recipe is a keeper! I've put off ordering the cookbook, but think I might grab it. I've yet to catch dinner there-- just brunch.

tigerfish April 22, 2010 at 9:47 PM  

The chicken thighs look perfectly browned before braising. :)

Mrs. Hot Cocoa April 22, 2010 at 11:16 PM  

@ Christina: It's actually a super easy recipe, though I definitely hear you on the laziness part. Sometimes nothing sounds more perfect than a frozen burrito. ;-)

@ Kimberly Michelle: I'm jealous you got to have brunch there! I'm sure it was delicious.

@ Tigerfish: They definitely got super crispy, though not quite as caramel colored as I would have hoped. They look so much prettier in the cookbook!

lavenderpug May 3, 2010 at 12:29 PM  

looks so good! i have some skinless chicken thighs in the freezer--i completely forgot why i bought them, but now i can use them in this recipe! (yes yes it's horrible i'm doing it without the skin...). don't mind me if a comment a little too much on your blog today--just found it!

Mrs. Hot Cocoa May 3, 2010 at 12:50 PM  

@ lavenderpug: Hi!!! No such thing as too many comments. I'm so glad we're reconnecting!

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