Recipe: Chicken with Fennel and Black Olives
I have to cook dinner again? Wow, when will it all stop? I guess when I’m dead. Not a problem. When I’m in doubt about what to make, I grab a package of chicken thighs, the indestructible warhorse of the modern kitchen. Low and slow heat after an initial browning produces really tender meat. You really can’t overcook the things (well, you can if you just blast the hell out of them, but I won’t let you do that). I think of chicken thighs as the meat of pasta. What I mean by this is that they’re so neutral, they’ll take to just about any flavoring. And that’s the fun part, choosing the add-ins.
A dish of raw fennel with olives always came to the table at my grandmother’s house after a big meal. This is a traditional Puglian palate cleanser, and its mingling of flavors has been etched in my palate for decades. I love it as a topping for pizza or in a panini, or with braised fish dishes. It’s also wonderful with chicken, but I find that bulb fennel itself doesn’t really add enough fennel flavor to stand up to the olives, so I’ve included ground fennel seed and a splash of pastis to jack it up a bit.
I served this with roasted yams and a side of wild rice with toasted pine nuts, shallots, and parsley. My sister said it tasted like Thanksgiving dinner. Sick of turkey? Try this chicken dish. It takes about 30 minutes.
Chicken with Fennel and Black Olives
Extra virgin olive oil
8 free range chicken thighs, with the skin
½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium shallots, cut into small dice
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into medium dice
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
3 large sprigs rosemary, the leaves chopped
A splash of Pernod or another pastis
½ cup chicken broth
⅓ cup crème fraîche
A handful of black olives (I used Gaetas because that’s what I had, but I think Niçoise, richer and less acidic, would be my first choice).
A few large sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves very lightly chopped
Dry off the chicken thighs, and sprinkle them on both sides with salt, the ground fennel, and black pepper.
In a large skillet, fitted with a lid, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, skin side down. Brown the pieces well on the skin side, and then flip them to brown the other side. Drain off excess oil (you’ll want to leave a little, though, since it provides good flavor.)
Now turn the heat down a touch, and add the shallots and the fennel, seasoning them with a little salt and black pepper. Sauté until the vegetables just start to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary, and sauté a minute longer, just to release their flavors. Add the pastis (just a tiny splash), and let it boil away. Add the chicken broth, turn the heat to low, cover the skillet, and simmer until the chicken is just tender, no more than 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the chicken sit on the stove for about 5 minutes. The residual skillet heat will help to further tenderize the chicken.
When you’re ready to serve, remove the chicken from the skillet onto a warmed serving platter. Add the crème fraîche to the skillet juices, and reduce it over high heat until thickened (to about the consistency of heavy cream). Add the black olives and the parsley, and give the sauce a stir. Check for seasoning, adding more salt or black pepper if needed. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Serve right away.