Braised Lemon Fennel Chicken Thighs combines sweet fennel and garlic with fresh lemon to create a wonderfully complex sauce that is perfect with this easy to prepare dish.
The story behind Braised Lemon Fennel Chicken Thighs
It starts with a lemon tree.
Well, it actually starts starts with last year being a very busy year for BB and me in our "life of change" and ending up with us being in Napa and renting a house with a beautiful lemon tree.
2018 was a year of changes. Big changes. We sold our home in Sonoma County, totally downsized, moved into a tiny apartment, BB changed jobs which necessitated us moving closer to his new workplace, which was the town of Napa and so that is what we did.
With all the downsizing, moving, changing, etc, etc. I didn't get a lot of work done on my cooking. And inventing new recipes. But now I have a new kitchen, a new garden, and a new lemon tree. So it's back to work!
I love lemons. I love fennel. I love garlic. So why not put them together in a tasty simple broth? Why not indeed.
I use chicken thighs for this recipe.
Could you use chicken breasts? I suppose you could, and if you choose to I would recommend you slice them in half laterally to make them thinner, and cook them for half the time indicated in my recipe so they turn out tender, not dry.
If you use breast, I would also cook the fennel, lemon, garlic, wine/chicken stock for about 10 minutes before you re-add the browned breast.
Chicken thighs hold up to the longer cooking time.
I always laugh a bit when I read a recipe that tells you to use "well-seasoned flour" or to "season the flour well" with salt and pepper. How much salt and pepper do you actually need to add to the flour to flavor the flour? I'm going to say a "whole lot more" than if you do it my way.
SEASON the meat, not the flour!.
When you season the meat, you know exactly how much seasoning the meat got. If you season the flour, well, your guess is as good as mine. And plus plus, you use a lot less salt and pepper, or whatever seasoning you are using. I use the same principle with my Simply the Best Fried Chicken recipe. SEASON the meat.
Lemons Lemons Lemons
Did you know that there are more than 25 different varieties of lemons? The most common are Avalon, Eureka, and Lisbon. I think I have a Eureka, being both in California, plus the fact my tree gives me lemons year round. Lisbon lemons are very similar, but only produce twice a year and Avalon thrive in Florida. So EURKEA it is.
Of course, there are also Myer lemons, which impart a more orange flavor, and Budda hand lemons, which don't look like lemons at all. For this dish, choose one of the lemony lemons that look like a lemon.
Now I also know that lemons can cost a pretty good chunk of change in many parts of this country, but this recipe only uses one lemon, and it uses all that lemon, except for the seeds, so it's a good use of lemon. No waste.
To effectively use the whole lemon, zest it first, then cut off the remaining white pith. The pith is rather bitter and best not used. You can zest lemons using a Microplane zester or use a sharp knife to remove the zest (and the zest only, again, leave that white pith behind) and then finely chop it.
Once you have zested, slice the lemon into about ¼ inch slices and remove any seeds, the seeds are not only bitter but not pleasant to chew on.
I chose to brown my lemon slices after I had browned my chicken to give them a deeper, smoother flavor. While not completely necessary, since they are just going to "melt" into the sauce, I find the taste to mellow out. If you choose not to brown your lemons, you may need to add a pinch of sugar after the dish is completed to adjust for tartness.
Personally, I love fennel. Raw it has a slight licorice flavor, cooked it is very mild and sweet. First grown in the USA by Thomas Jefferson, who loved to bring in not only vegetables but wine vines from all over Europe, it looks similar to celery when sliced, but the flavor is very different. Here is an article I wrote all about the history, how to buy, how to prepare fennel, but the condensed version is, buy fennel that has a white ball with no bruises or cuts, with bright green tops that are not wilted. It is said that round bottoms mean the bulb is female thinner flatter bulbs indicate male, and while there is no hard fast evidence this is true, I do find the rounder bottoms to be more tender. So when I choose, I choose round bottoms.
After your lemon slices have been browned, add the fennel and garlic and cook until just starting to brown around the edges and are crisp-tender.
And to the finish line
So your chicken has been seasoned and browned. The lemons have a nice color to them. Fennel and garlic, sauteed. Add the wine or vermouth (I like to use vermouth as the flavor is very consistent and the $$ is pretty low). Reduce whichever you choose by half, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan, then return the lemon and chicken to the skillet, add some chicken stock, cover and cook for about 30 minutes. The lemon slices will melt into the sauce, the fennel and garlic mellow together, and the chicken is now nice and tender.
Plate onto nice warm plates and top with that fresh garnish of lemon zest and fresh fennel fronds that have been minced together.
This dish is PERFECT with a California Sauvignon Blanc or an Italian Pinot Grigio.
And it took about 60 minutes, start to finish.
Not bad for a weekday meal.
Braised Lemon Fennel Chicken Thighs
served with Brown Rice and Steamed Broccoli
Braised Lemon Fennel Chicken Thighs
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lemon peeled, seeded and sliced
- 6 garlic cloves thickly sliced
- 1 fennel bulb halved, cored and sliced
- ½ cup dry white wine or white vermouth
- ½ cup chicken stock homemade or low-sodium
- Zest of 1 lemon finely chopped (zest first, peel and slice second)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fennel tops
- Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, lightly flour.
- Mix the lemon zest and fennel tops together. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sauté until browned on all sides. Remove the chicken from the pan: set aside.
- Add the lemon slices to the pan and allow to lightly brown. Remove from pan. Add the garlic and fennel, saute until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes, then add the wine (or vermouth), scraping up any browned bits. Reduce by ½ then return the chicken thighs and lemon pieces to the pan, add the chicken stock, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Place 2 thighs onto warmed plates, top with the fennel, garlic, lemon, along with the pan juices. Sprinkle lemon zest and fennel top mixture over the top and serve.