One of the principles of fine cooking is to intensify flavor by removing water or anything else that would dilute flavor molecules. Much of the labor required to execute, for example, Thomas Keller’s recipes in The French Laundry Cookbook involves endless straining and reduction to squeeze every bit of flavor from ingredients.
So when confronted with the problem of getting cooked fennel to taste like fennel I took some inspiration from Keller, although this recipe is considerably less labor intensive than anything in that tome.
For this dish I wanted grilled chicken but accompanied by something different from the standard sauces and rubs. Think of this as sophisticated Q—but don’t tell barbecue fans, they will laugh.
I love raw fennel but it is so fibrous it can be used only when thin slices are called for. Yet, when cooked to break down the fiber it loses its licorice-like intensity. Is there a way to get soft texture and big flavor? Yes, with some straining, reduction and a little help from flavor buddies like parsnips, ouzo, and fennel seed.
The briny olive purée is a perfect partner for the sweetness of the fennel—there is real synergy in their interaction. Separate them on the plate and allow diners to make their own perfect bite.
Recipe is below the fold
Recipe for Grilled Chicken w/Fennel and Olive Purées
1 gallon water
½ cup salt
1 cup honey
1 cup Dijon mustard
1 broiler/fryer chicken (3 to 3-1/2 pounds), cut up
1 cup Olive Puree (see below)
1 cup Fennel Puree (see below)
For Fennel Puree
2 large Fennel bulbs with stalks, trimmed of fronds, (these can be reserved for a garnish)
2 medium size parsnips
2 tspn ground fennel or anise seed
1 tablespoon ouzo (optional)
Salt and pepper
For Olive Puree:
2 cups pitted black olives such as Kalmata
4 anchove fillets
2 tablespoons drained capers
4 tablespoons olive oil
1. Put cold water in a large bowl. Stir in the salt, honey, and mustard until they
dissolve. Reserve the brine in the refrigerator until cool.
2. Brine chicken parts for 7 hours. Remove chicken from the brine and place on a rack to dry in the refrigerator until needed.
(Brine Recipe adapted from Kamozawa and Talbot, Ideas in Food)
For Fennel Puree:
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
2. Cut fennel and parsnips into large chunks, mix in bowl with some olive oil and transfer to roasting pan. Roast vegetables for 45 minutes
3. Boil 4 cups water in a medium pot. Add roasted vegetables and simmer covered at least 1 hour until vegetables are soft.
4. Working in batches, put vegetables and their broth in food processor and process as finely as possible
5. Using a fine-grained strainer, strain processed vegetables to remove tough or stringy pulp.(If you like a rustic sauce you can skip this step) You should now have about 3 cups of puree (the amount will differ depending on how much pulp was removed)
6. Put puree in a medium pan and simmer uncovered until reduced to 1 1/2 cups.
7. Add 1 tablespoon ouzo (if using) and 2 teaspoons ground fennel or anise seed. Continue cooking until puree is reduced to 1 cup.
Add salt and pepper to taste
For Olive Puree
Preheat oven to 200 degrees
Place olives in a single layer on a utility pan and roast in oven for about 1 hour (this removes water and concentrates flavor)
In a food processor or blend, combine rest of the ingredients and process to a smooth paste. Thin with a little water to get the desired consistency.
Add pepper to taste
Directions for Dish
Drain chicken and discard marinade. Grill, covered, over medium heat for 35-45 minutes or until white meat reaches 165 degrees; or use your favorite grilling method. I use a two level charcoal fire. The skin is crisped over high heat, and the chicken is then cooked over lower heat.
While chicken is cooking, heat purees and hold until ready to serve.
Serve chicken with the two purees and allow diners to combine them or not as they wish.