Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chicken with Leeks and Fennel

Once again, a New Year; which means economy; both financially and calorically. Normally this would be enough to send me into a two week spiral of bitterness and revenge. After all, what’s Life without treats?

On the other hand, my freezer really has been begging for reorganization and restoration. And this will be the last chance to use up those extras from the New Year’s Eve soiree.. So I thought a refrigerator surprise dinner might be just the challenge I needed to snap me out of my feelings of deprivation.

After jettisoning a few freezer burned pork chops, regretfully dismissing some of last summer’s tart cherries that never made it to the preserving pot, and tossing several sauces that refused current identification; I was left with some forgotten but still useful pints of chicken stock, pancetta scraps that will come in handy for flavoring braises to come, and chicken thighs that were still in serviceable shape.
The refrigerator enjoyed a similar purging of the forgotten and unusable, and rewarded me with a few leeks, half a bulb of fennel, rosemary remnants and leftover cauliflower. I liked what I saw, and began to feel more pampered than deprived as I set the chicken thighs to defrost.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Leeks and Fennel
Roasted Cauliflower and Brown Rice
– Serves 2

4 Chicken thighs on the bone – skin removed
1 Leek - sliced thinly crosswise and WELL washed – about 2/3 cup
½ head Fennel – core removed and thinly sliced
Rosemary – finely minced – about ½ teaspoon
White Wine and Chicken Stock
Cauliflower – cut into medium florettes
Brown Rice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook brown rice according to package directions. When finished, stir in some chopped scallion if desired and keep warm.

Heat a small/medium sauté pan. Over medium heat, brown the seasoned chicken thighs in oil. Don’t let the pan get too hot, and patiently achieve delicious color on the thighs. When browned on both sides, throw about ½ cup wine into the sauté pan. After the wine has simmered up, remove the chicken thighs to a small casserole. Scrape the pan to get up all of the flavor and then pour the reduced wine over the chicken.

Return sauté pan to heat, add a bit more oil and heat to medium. Add leeks and sauté for a minute or so. Add the fennel and rosemary, season with salt & pepper and continue to sauté until vegetables are beginning to soften. Add chicken stock and heat until simmering. (Note: adjust seasoning if using canned chicken broth. Homemade stock will need more salt typically) When hot, pour mixture on top of chicken thighs.

This dish will cook best when it loosely fills the casserole. Too tight and it won’t cook evenly, too much space and the flavor will be weak. Cover casserole tightly or wrap with foil and set in preheated oven. Cook about 30 - 40 minutes, until chicken is very tender, but still lightly clinging to the bone. Remove from oven and keep warm in the covered casserole.

Raise oven heat to 450 degrees. Place a foil lined baking sheet in the oven to preheat. Toss cauliflower lightly with oil, salt and pepper. When oven is preheated, remove baking sheet, pour cauliflower on sheet and place in oven. After 6 minutes toss cauliflower to achieve even browning and return to oven until cooked to desired consistency.

Serve chicken thighs over rice accompanied with cauliflower.