Fennel and Chicken Braised with Lemon

La Vie Rustic: Cooking and Living in the French Style
by Georgeanne Brennan

Published by Weldon Owen
Photography by Sara Remington

Fennel is good both raw and cooked. Cooking transforms its distinct licorice flavor into an almost-sweet back note. From the garden, I like to use very young fennel for pickles and the larger, more robust bulbs for gratins and in braised dishes like this one. Since I have Meyer lemon trees at my house in California, I use them here, though any variety will work. 

Serves 4

1 large or 2 medium fennel bulbs with stalks and fronds
2 lemons, preferably Meyer, halved then cut into 3 pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 chicken thighs, with or without skin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
¼ cup green olives, pitted 

Trim the stalks from the fennel, reserving the lacy tips of the fronds for garnish. Cut the fennel bulb lengthwise into ¼-inch slices—the slices will look like hands. Cut the fennel “hands” lengthwise into ½-inch slices. Set aside. 

Put the cut lemons in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Add the chicken, garlic, oregano, and pepper and turn to coat. Let stand for about 30 minutes for the flavors to infuse the chicken. 

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the chicken thighs, reserving the lemon pieces, garlic, and oregano, and cook, turning several times, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate or platter. 

Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon oil into the hot pan and add the fennel. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté, stirring, until nearly translucent, 8–10 minutes. Stir in the lemons, garlic, and oregano, turning a few times. Add the wine and ½ cup water and deglaze the pan by scraping up any bits that cling to the bottom. Return the chicken to the pan, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the chicken is tender and the fennel can be cut with a spoon, about 45 minutes. 

While the chicken is cooking, mince enough of the fennel fronds to measure 2 tablespoons. Combine the chopped fronds with the lemon zest. 

Transfer the chicken mixture to a platter and garnish with the lemon-fennel mixture and the olives.
Serve at once.