We love braises in all their forms, from braised beef with tender homemade noodles to an aromatic dish of braised sausage and fennel. They are satisfying, comforting and full of flavor. And in this week’s episode of mad genius, Food & Wine Culinary Director-at-Large Justin Chapple adds another winner to the list: his recipe for Citrus Fennel Chicken with Calabrian Olives and Chilies. It may seem complicated due to the longer title, but rest assured, this chicken dinner is pretty simple to make.
“With just a few ingredients and the help of our oven, we are going to have a breathtakingly delicious dinner,” says Justin.
Here’s the gist: you brown the chicken thighs in a pan on the stovetop, add a bunch of aromatics like orange and lemon slices to the pan, braise them, then let it all cook in the oven. for about an hour. The end result is a flavor-packed meal that pairs beautifully with a torn baguette and a spicy Calabrian red wine, which is especially apt, since Calabrian chiles make an appearance in the dish. If you like this dish, keep reading Justin’s method and follow the video above so you can make it at home.
Brown the chicken thighs
For this dish, you will need four 12-ounce chicken thigh quarters, patted dry. Season them on both sides with kosher salt and black pepper as you heat extra virgin olive oil in a 12-inch skillet. Justin notes that it’s important to use a 12-inch saucepan so all the ingredients can fit – if you don’t have one, use a Dutch oven or large saucepan instead (and make sure everything you use goes in the oven!). Add the chicken thighs to the oil and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until nicely browned on both sides. Then, take them out of the pan and transfer them to a large plate.
Meanwhile, prepare your herbs
While the chicken browns, Justin prepares the fennel, Cara Cara (or navel) orange, lemon and garlic. You will need both the fennel bulb and the fronds – cut the bulb through the pit into 3/4 inch thick wedges and set the fronds aside for garnish. As for the citrus fruits, you will need four 1/2-inch-thick slices of each. The thicker cuts will prevent them from falling apart during braising.
Finally, cut the head of garlic in half widthwise. Add the two halves, cut side down, to the chicken fat in the skillet for about 30 seconds, letting them cook undisturbed until lightly browned. Then remove the garlic from the pan and add it to the plate with the chicken so you can start building the braising liquid.
Build That Braising Liquid
Next, remove the pan from the heat and add the fennel seeds to the chicken drippings, letting them brown for 30 seconds (stir constantly while this happens). At this point, it’s time to add all of the low-sodium liquid chicken broth, dry sherry, and reserved brine and oil from the Castelvetrano olives and Calabrian chiles, respectively, along with the rest of the salt and pepper. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Assemble, braise, and Roast
Once you have your braising liquid, add the chicken. Lay the thighs skin side up in the pan, then add all those aromatics, placing the lemon and orange slices, fennel wedges and two garlic halves around the chicken. Finally, sprinkle the pitted Castelvetrano olives and the whole Calabrian peppers. Bring the liquid in the pan to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pan tightly, either with a lid or foil, and place in a preheated 375°F oven. The chicken will cook in two stages, first for 35-40 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 130°F, then uncovered for another 15-20 minutes. After this step, the chicken should register 165°F and the fennel should be tender.
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food styling by Torie Cox / Accessories styling by Claire Spollen
Once the chicken is cooked, all that remains is to garnish it with the finely chopped candied lemon zest and the fennel leaves. Then plate up the chicken and the fixings, grab a baguette, and go to town.
“It’s literally all the flavor in my whole mouth,” Justin says after trying the dish. “All that. My God, that chicken is good.”