Ad Hoc’s Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon and Fennel

Fat is flavor.

Big time.

How often have you heard chefs equate fatty goodness with deeply developed, satiating flavor?

Countless, I’m sure.

This simple recipe for “Crispy Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon and Fennel” from “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan) by Chef Thomas Keller is a prime example of just why they espouse that.

Chicken thighs get seared golden brown in a pan, then removed to a cooling rack. Peer into the pan and you’ll see a small pond of glistening, rendered liquid fat at the bottom.

Don’t be afraid.

Healthful, gym-rat me was tempted to pour out that fat, while good food-loving me was smacking my lips at the lusciousness pooling in the pan. In the end, the latter me won out, especially because Keller makes no mention in the recipe of cleaning out the pan before proceeding with the rest of the directions.

For good reason.

Into that liquid gold in the pan goes chopped garlic, onion and fennel, all of which soak up that marvelous chicken-y flavor imbued in all that fat.  Pour in a little white wine, fleshy green olives, red pepper flakes, a couple bay leaves and thyme. Keller adds four strips of lemon zest; since I love lemon, I added strips from one entire lemon. Add chicken stock, and the chicken thighs, then bake until cooked through.  For the crowning touch, place the entire pan under the broiler to crisp the chicken skin before serving.

It’s a comforting, one-pot dish with concentrated anise-citrus flavors of the Mediterranean.

Make it — and don’t touch that fat in the pan. Don’t even think about it. Just don’t.

Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel

(serves 6)

3 fennel bulbs

12 chicken thighs

Kosher salt

Canola oil

1 cup coarsely chopped onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

1 cup Ascolane or other large green olives, such as Cerignola

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 freshor 2 dried bay leaves

4 strips lemon zest –  removed with a vegetable peeler

8 thyme sprigs

1 cup chicken stock

About 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

Cut off fennel stalks. Trim bottom of bulbs and peel back the layers until you reach the core; reserve the core for another use. Discard any bruised layers, and cut the fennel into 2-by-1/2-inch batons. You need 3 cups fennel for this recipe; reserve any remaining fennel for another use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.

Season chicken thighs on both sides with salt. Heat some canola oil in a large ovenproof saute pan or roasting rack that will hold all the thighs in one layer over medium-high heat. Add thighs skin-side down and brown on the skin side, about 4 minutes. Turn thighs over and cook for about 1 minute to sear the meat. Transfer to the cooling rack.

Reduce heat to medium-low, add onion to the pan, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in fennel, turn heat up to medium, and cook, stirring often, until fennel is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.

Pour in wine and simmer for about 2 minutes to burn off alcohol. Stir in olives, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, lemon zest, and thyme, then pour in chicken stock. Increase heat, bring liquid to a simmer, and cook until fennel is tender, about 1 minute.

Taste the stock and season with salt as needed. Return chicken to the pan skin-side-up, in a single layer. When the liquid returns to a simmer, transfer to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Turn on the broiler, and put pan under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp and brown the skin. Remove from oven, and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley leaves.

From “Ad Hoc at Home”

More Ad Hoc recipes: Chocolate Chip Cookies

More: Leek Bread Pudding

More: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

More: Caramelized Sea Scallops

More: Thomas Keller’s Book-Signing Event at Ad Hoc

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