Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables to cook with, but I fear it has a bad reputation. Once an ingredient is paired with the words “anise” or “black licorice” it becomes a bit of a turn off for most. But bear with me on this one — cooking this magical bulb transforms the flavor completely.
I, too, went through a period where I “didn’t like fennel” but dear reader — I was wrong. If your only experience with this funny little bulb is a raw shaved salad with citrus, try cooking it to reveal a sweet, aromatic, and intense-in-a-good-way flavor profile that will make you the star of dinner.
This recipe uses the entire fennel plant and has a guest appearance by fennel seeds as well. The ingredients are inexpensive, easy to find, quick to assemble, and the recipe has plenty of opportunity to clean-as-you go for ideal weeknight cooking.
When in the grocery store, look for a fennel bulb with vibrant fronds. Whatever you do, don’t toss them. These wispy little greens can be used as herbs to freshen up any dish. In this recipe, they help to form a chimichurri-like sauce to help cut through the richness of a crispy chicken thigh.
- 6 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- ½ teaspoon black pepper coarsely ground
- 1 fennel bulb with fronds
- 1 small onion
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Black pepper
Prep the chicken:
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF, then pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels
- Add ½ teaspoon of course salt and all of the fennel seeds to a mortar and pestle. Grind them together until the fennel seeds have broken down a bit and are very fragrant.
- Mix the ground seeds with the rest of the salt and the black pepper. Season the chicken thighs all over with spice mixture.
Start the chicken:
- Place the seasoned chicken thighs skin-side down in a large cast iron skillet. The skillet should be room temperature to start, and there is no need to add any oil to the pan.
- Place the chicken over medium heat. Resist the urge to meddle in the cooking process for the next 12 minutes or so. Give the chicken skin time to render its fat and become golden brown. Rotate the pan every few minutes to ensure even cooking.
Prep the vegetables:
- Peel the onion and trim the ends. Cut it into ¼” inch slices, then set aside for now.
- Remove the fronds from the fennel bulb. Trim the end off of the bulb, and remove the outermost layer if it seems tough. Slice the bulb into ¼” slices, then add to the pile of onion.
- Smash and peel the garlic cloves. Finely chop, along with the fennel fronds until they are well acquainted.
- Place the chopped garlic and fronds in a small bowl, then add the vinegar. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking with a fork, until the mixture resembles a sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste, set aside.
Finish the dish:
- Use tongs to remove the browned chicken from the pan, and set aside for now.
- Add the sliced onion and fennel to the pan. Saute for a few minutes in the rendered chicken fat, until they are slightly softened. Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour in the wine, stirring up any of the fond that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan. Beware of splatter.
- Add the chicken back to the pan, skin side up, layering over the onion and fennel. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the thighs are cooked through.
- Remove from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for about 5 minutes, then spoon the fennel frond sauce over top.