With spring finally here, our local vegetable market is chock full of young vegetables, and when I spotted a big bunch of baby fennel I couldn’t resist. With its sweet, tender stalk and robust anise flavor, fennel makes for a great salad when shaved, or a beautiful side dish when braised.
Given what a rare find it was where I live, I decided something special was in order. What I came up with is this stew where the fennel is braised with red onions, chicken and wine. It’s inspired by classic European stews like Poulet à la Moutarde and Chicken Paprikash, but it doesn’t really have a provenience of its own. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone’s grandma somewhere has been making this for years. Because if comfort had a taste, this would be it. The chicken is tender and moist, the fennel is sweet and fragrant. The sauce is savory and complex but the acidity from the wine and creme fraiche keep the richness in check.
I recommend using chicken thighs for braised dishes like this because chicken breast meat will end up like wet cardboard if you overcook it. If you can’t find baby fennel, thick slices of regular fennel will work as well. Although I prefer creme fraiche; sour cream, or even greek yogurt should work as well.
- 2 pounds boneless skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- .4 ounces garlic, about 2 cloves, minced
- 7.8 ounces red onion, about 1 medium onion, sliced
- 9.7 ounces baby fennel, trimmed and halved lengthwise (reserve any leaves for garnish)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dry white wine (like sauvignon blanc)
- 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
- If your pieces of chicken are very large, cut them into manageable pieces (5x5-inches).
- Sprinkle the salt and pepper onto both sides of the chicken and then dust evenly with the flour.
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, skin-side down in a single layer (if all the chicken doesn't fit, divide it into two batches to brown). Let the chicken brown undisturbed until a brown crust forms on the bottom (about 4-5 minutes).
- Flip the chicken and brown the other side (another 4-5 minutes). Transfer the browned chicken to a bowl and repeat with the rest of the chicken if necessary.
- Add the garlic to the pot and saute until fragrant.
- Add the onions, fennel and bay leaf to the pot and then add the wine. Return the chicken to the pot. Partially cover with a lid and braise over low heat. Check the chicken after 20 minutes, if there is still a lot of liquid in the pot, continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until the chicken is tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.
- Add the creme fraiche to a small bowl and whisk in some of the hot braising liquid. This step tempers the creme fraiche and prevents it from curdling. Pour this tempered creme fraiche back into the pot and stir to combine.
- Serve the chicken with some chopped fennel leaves.
Yield: 4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.