Sunday, May 9, 2010

Recent food adventures

My last post was meant to be an update about what I have been eating recently, but instead it turned into a rant about chefs on the Food Network. I guess I just needed to get it out my system, sort of like what happened with those weird carnitas tacos I had the other day. Fortunately, my eating of late has agreed with me much better. Here's what it was:

Chicken with Creamy Fennel Sauce and Rice Pilaf
I just finished the leftovers of this today at work. Let me tell you, it was great. I was looking for something to go with the delicious Haut Marin white wine from the Côtes de Gascogne region that I got at my favorite neighborhood wine store, Vintage Berkeley. So I searched rather open-endedly for "white wine recipe." As you know, or are about to find out, I love sauces, any kinds really, nice saucy sauces that just beg for a good dipping. And I was in the mood for a creamy one and so when this was at the top of the list, I looked no further. I love fennel for its crunch, yet subtle spiciness and pungent aroma, and I also like the marriage of nutmeg and cream, a common combination in French cooking. And the herbes de provence seemed like a stroke of genius. So I decided to try it, with my own modifications of course. The wine was great, super dry and tart. It puckered my tongue and reset my palate for the onslaught of each creamy spoonful of creamy, ricey, warm, chickeny goodness. The original recipe called for cream cheese and also for using either half and half or cream. When I use cream in a sauce, I always end up adding milk at the end anyways since it comes out too thick. Since my recipe was going to involve cooking the chicken in the sauce at the end it was definitely going to have to be the latter so that my sauce wouldn't coagulate. Also, I couldn't really justify buying a whole container of cream cheese just to use one tablespoon of it. So I omitted it. I thought about using feta instead, since I have some in my fridge, but finally decided on parmesan instead, leaving the feta's strong flavor for another sauce. For sauces I always try to use the same pan in order to preserve the flavors of all the different ingredients. Its kind of a juggle, but it's worth it in the end. Hope you enjoy!


1 tbls. vegetable oil
Chicken Thigh and drumstick, or whatever pieces you want
2 fennel bulbs
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup dry white wine, Haut de Marin
2 cups 1/2 and 1/2
1/2 tsp herbes de provence
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
grated parmesan, to taste
1 tbls. butter
2 c. long-grain white rice
3 c. water
1 tsp salt

1. In a large skillet, sear chicken pieces on medium-high heat in a tbls. of vegetable oil 5-8 minutes on both side until each side is brown and crispy. Remember not to crowd the pan. Remove from heat and reserve on a plate.
2. In the meantime, chop the fennel into short 1/4 inch strips, cut down the side of the shallot and then slice into rounds, and mince the garlic. See Note on chopping fennel bulb
3. When the chicken is out of the skillet, add 1 tbls. butter and sauté the fennel, garlic, and shallot together until they are translucent, but not soft! (about five minutes) Then remove them from heat and reserve.
4. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the remaining butter and flour to the mixture in order to make a quick roux. Make sure to stir constantly so as not to burn the flour! Do this for about 5 minutes or until the color of the roux is light brown.
5. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the wine (room temperature) to the mixture, slowly, stirring to scrape up and dissolve solids from the bottom. Then, add the half and half, reserved vegetables, herbes de provence, and freshly grated nutmeg (careful with this ingredient because the flavor of nutmeg can be overwhelming. Finally, add the chicken. Cover, and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
6. At this time, in another pan, saute the rice in 1 tbls. of butter for 3 minutes or until the rice is golden brown. Then, pour over water, add salt, and bring to a boil. When water is boiling, reduce heat to low and cover tightly. Cook for 15 minutes and then turn off the heat and allow the rice to continue steaming for 15 more minutes. It is very important not to take off the lid!
7. When all is done, serve the chicken in its saucy, goodness with the rice, and perhaps, a steamed vegetable or light salad. And of course, a glass of your tasty, tangy white wine on the side and enjoy!

Serves two + leftovers!

Note on chopping fennel bulb: Fennel is an oft-forgotten aromatic, but it's oh-so-good. Special thanks to the internet for these fennel-chopping directions. First, remove fronds and stalks from the bulb. Quarter the bulb lengthwise and then, cutting diagonally toward the bottom, remove the hard core from the bulb. Then chop widthwise up the quarters to achieve the thin, short strips look.

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