Its been cold here, cold not just for Austin but cold, cold, cold. The water in my rain barrels froze solid, my tiny backyard pond iced over and we actually had snow that stayed on the ground for more than a day! For us this is crazy.
Winter is the time to enjoy long, slow-cooked, richly scented dishes. The kind of dishes that warm the house by scent and by having the oven or stove on all day. Slooooooooow food, that’s the ticket!
I love fennel. There’s something about the slightly licorice-y (from Greek glukurrhiza, from glukus ‘sweet’ + rhiza ‘root’, says my dictionary) taste that works fine in a summer salad but equally well in mid-winter casserole. It tastes clean to me, fresh even when cooked.
I read somewhere that the round bulbs are female and the flatter bulbs are male. This doesn’t make sense to me, but I’ll ask my herbalist friend. In any event, I do think the rounder bulbs have more flavor and cooking it seems to make it even sweeter.
In France, where fresh rabbit is common in the markets I made this casserole using it and enjoyed it very much. Here rabbit is expensive when you can find it, and usually frozen. It also tends to freak folks out a bit. “What? You ate Thumper? Eeewwwwww…” You get the drift. So I use chicken and I think it works just fine.
The trick is to brown the meat before adding all the liquid. You could simply pile everything in a Dutch over and cook it, but you’d get a different flavor I think. So, I put flour, salt and pepper in a plastic bag, put the meat in and shake to coat. Easy enough and no chicken mess or flour flying everywhere. And, if you are living gluten-free you can certainly use rice flour rather than wheat flour.
Anyway, brown the meat, take it out, add the wine then the veggies and water, put the meat back in and simmer for an hour or so. Add rice at some point if you like. I like! My house smelled warm and wonderful, and I decided to call my sister, who is an excellent cook, to share.
“I wish you were here”, I said, “My house smells yummy.”
“Oh,” she said, “Mine does too!”
“What are you making?” I asked.
“Oven roasted chicken with fennel and onions and carrots…”
I had to laugh. 1500 miles apart yet we seem to be very much of one mind. And we’re not even twins! Now granted, hers was the “rub the whole bird with olive oil, place atop chopped veggies and roast” recipe and mine was “flour the pieces, brown in olive oil, add veggies and simmer” but a pint’s a pound, hey? Fennel either way and I know that both of our houses smelled warm and wonderful on a very cold winter’s day.
I wish we could have shared our meals, but that will have to wait. In any event, if you would like to share mine, here’s what I did.
Chicken and Fennel My Way
flour, salt and pepper to coat
1 medium onion sliced thin
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 C (roughly) olives*, black or green
1 C red wine
1 C water
1 C uncooked rice
Flour the chicken pieces and brown them in the olive oil (about 3 minutes per side) in a Dutch oven. Pull the meat out and set aside. Deglaze the pan with the wine. All this means is pour the wine in and as it bubbles madly scrape all the stuck on bits off the bottom of the pan.
Put the sliced onion and fennel in the pan, add the olives and put the chicken pieces back on top. Add water to just below the chicken, bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook 1 hour.
Remove the chicken or at least move it aside and add the rice so that it is covered by the cooking liquid. Put the chicken back as it was and simmer (uncovered or partially covered depending on how much cooking liquid there is) for 1/2 hour or until the rice is as cooked as you like it. Enjoy with a green salad and good bread. Mmmm…
* A note on olives. More and more groceries are sporting “olive bars”. Test drive these olives, black, green or mixed, and certainly use them in this dish. Just be sure to warn your dinner mates if you choose to use olives that are not pitted – danger danger! Stay warm and bon appetit!