This dish is a mouthful of spring. And I think spring is finally unpacking it’s boxes and staying for while here in the northeast.
This dish is easy and fresh with all that fennel and all those herbs and a quick umami-fied pan sauce. This is a week-night dinner in under 40 minutes and impressive enough in flavor for weekend guests. It uses a few techniques that you may not use often but that will make all the difference in taste and texture. You’ll pound the chicken out to make the breast a uniform thickness, which results in a tender, consistently cooked piece of meat, and you’ll grind spices in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder instead of using a pre-ground version, for more freshness and flavor and a bit of aromatherapy while you are at it.
What you see pictured is the “mise en place” (MEESE ON PLAHCE. French for “put in place”) for this dish and another that I will post next time that goes perfectly with this, an Israeli cous cous and asparagus mash up that is a new favorite in my house since I made it for a William-Sonoma demo last month, (especially since quinoa can be substituted for the cous cous with great success for my gluten-sensitive stomach). Don’t you just admire the organization here? Don’t you just want to run out and get some little Pyrex bowls and get all mise en plac-y yourself when you are cooking, so that it is much less stressful and enjoyable to cook? It’s worth having to wash out all those little bowls in exchange for the way it really takes preparing and executing a dish to a more professional and less haphazard level. I think people would enjoy the process of cooking a lot more if they approached it this way. Gathering the ingredients and “mise-ing them out” makes pulling together a recipe more meditative and zen for me, and even calms the OCD part of me that gets all agitated when things get too messy. Eight out of ten times I question a new student who says they “don’t cook much” or “freak out about” cooking, I discover that the main reason they dislike cooking is because of how chaotic it seems and out-of-control it makes them feel. $20 worth of pyrex dishes and some sheet pans (for separating ingredients by recipe) can change all that.
Make this little bit of spring, whether you have the little bowls or not. Another thing that makes cooking less stressful? Wine. A nice glass of crisp white wine would be lovely. I feel myself exhaling already!
- yield: Makes 2 servings
Fennel Seed Crusted Chicken Breast with Fennel Herb Salad
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercornS
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and shaved (about 1 cup)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons fennel fronds (top greens that look like dill), snipped off and lightly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup dry rose or white wine
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, grind together the fennel seeds, peppercorns, ½ teaspoon salt, and rep pepper flakes until coarsely ground. Place 1 chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound lightly with a meat mallet (or heavy skillet) until evenly flattened to ½ inch thick. Repeat with second chicken breast. Evenly sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with the fennel seed mixture and lightly rub into the surfaces.
Stir together the shaved fennel, chives, parsley, fennel tops, lemon juice, and 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Hold aside.
Heat a large, heavy skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. When hot, warm 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in the pan until it shimmers and flows thinly in the pan. Add chicken to the hot skillet and resist the urge to turn or move the chicken until it gets a good sear, about 2-3 minutes, at which time it should release easily from the pan. Flip the chicken and cook the other side about 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and is firm to the touch or 165 degrees internally.
Transfer the chicken to warmed plates. Mix the rose/white wine and chicken stock together in one cup then add it too the hot pan. Using a wooden spoon, pick up all the brown bits and glaze that formed on the bottom of the pan from cooking the chicken. Continue cooking the liquid at high heat until it reduces to half it’s volume, about 2-3 minutes. Pour the pan juices evenly over the chicken breasts and top each chicken breast with some of the fennel-herb salad, dividing evenly. Serve immediately.
Adapted from William-Sonoma Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Jeanne Kelly