A rich dish that will take about an hour and a half to prepare, plus another 30 minutes baking. This is a busy recipe, that takes time to do right, but all steps are easy.
Since this dish is time-consuming, plan on making 8 servings, which will fit in a 12" cast-iron skillet (with a 10" skillet, make 6 servings). You need a cast-iron skillet for this dish; I do not recommend a teflon pan.
Special Equipment Needed:
12" Cast Iron Skillet (Lodge brand sells for about $35 - a great pan to have)
8 Chicken Thighs, skin-on and bone
1 Fennel Bulb, with fronds
1 1/2 C Arborio Rice
1 Large Yellow Onion
1 Serrano Pepper
1 Carton, Chicken Broth (or better, 2 cartons)
Chardonnay wine (optional)
Grated Parmesan Cheese (optional)
Fennel is a strange plant -- somewhat like a celery root, with delicate greens. Raw, the plant tastes like licorice -- but when cooked, it takes on a different flavor. You are mostly using this plant for color and texture. It stands up to cooking much better than an onion.
1. Heat cast-iron to medium, add a drizzle of Olive Oil
2. Generously Salt and Pepper chicken, both sides; don't be shy on the salt.
3. Add chicken thighs, skin-side-down. Cook until browned (6 to 8 min). While browning, don't mess with the chicken; let them sit in the pan, undisturbed. When they release from the pan, and are suitably browned, turn and brown the other side, another 5 or-so minutes. The chicken will be finished in a later step.
While the chicken is browning, prepare the vegetables.
4. Cut the top and bottom off of the Fennel; peel the outer layer and discard. Reserve the fronds.
Cut the bulb in half, top-to-bottom, then roughly chop fennel into long, 1/4" strips
Using your fingers, pull off the delicate fronds, discarding the coarse stems. Make a nice pile of them; you probably won't use or need the entire plant.
5. Roughly slice 1 large yellow onion, similar to the Fennel.
6. Roughly chop 5 or 6 garlic cloves; reserve in a small bowl
7. Roughly seed and chop 1 Serrano Pepper; reserve
8. Using a micro-plane, zest two lemons and reserve. Slice the lemons into moderately-thick slices. I happen to like peeling the lemons, using the knife to cut off the rinds, but others like the look unpeeled.
Continue with the Chicken and Sauteing Vegetables:
9. Remove the browned, but undercooked chicken and place on a plate. Put in a 200-degree oven to keep warm. Drain excess oil, leaving the pan wet.
10. In the cast-iron, add rough-cut Fennel and Onions. Salt, and add a sprinkle of sugar. Cook on medium heat until vegetables caramelize and brown. Keep turning, 8 or so minutes.
Just as the Fennel and Onions are browning, add the Serrano pepper to the party .
When the vegetables are nearly done (well browned), add the Garlic (you do not want to burn or brown the garlic). Continue to toss for another few minutes.
11. Remove vegetables and place in a bowl. Wipe the pan.
12. Heat oven to 375F
Here is the time-consuming step: You will be browning the rice, making a risotto-like rice dish. This part is easy, but labor-intensive.
13. Warm chicken broth in a separate sauce pan.
14. Brown the rice: Add a splash or two of Olive Oil into the medium-hot cast-iron pan. Immediately stir the rice, coating the kernels with the lightest coating of oil.
Move the pan away from the burner, add a splash of Chardonnay wine for flavor.
Return the pan to the stove, on a medium-low heat
Constantly stir until it begins to brown (10 minutes?). Be careful not to burn -- you are after the lightest toasting. The pan will be mostly dry while browning.
15. Once toasted, dip a cup or two of warm Chicken broth, and mix with the rice -- enough to wet the rice.
Stir constantly until liquid is nearly gone.
Add another cup and continue stirring. Again, let most of the moisture evaporate.
Adjust the heat up or down to keep the mixture active.
Keep adding broth and stirring. Note, you are not boiling the rice -- it should not be "swimming." If you run out of broth, use water. (however, 2 cartons of broth make for a richer dish...) But always add warmed liquid.
The goal is to coax the starches out of the rice -- this takes time and elbow-work -- expect a half-an-hour. Keep adding broth and stirring -- using the entire carton. Cook until al-dente' -- cooked but with still a firmness -- a "bite" to the kernels.
Remove from burner.
When the Rice is done:
16. Re-introduce the vegetable mixture,
Add half of the reserved fronds.
17. Layer chicken on top of the rice, skin-side-up. Crowd the pan. Add lemon-slices on top of chicken.
You will notice this picture only shows six chicken thighs. My mistake; I should have cooked all 8 of them.... you want a crowded pan to hold-in the moisture.
18. Toss the pan into the 375F oven and finish the chicken, cooking for another 30 minutes or so, until thermometer reads 155/160F near the bone. About half-way through, sprinkle remaining fronds as decoration.
This dish looks amazing!
For a more classic risotto, remove the rice to a separate bowl and let rest for a few minutes, cooling slightly. Stir-in grated Parmesan cheese.
Plate a large spoonful of rice, with Chicken on top. Serve a sweet melon or fruit - in this case cantaloupe, along with other colour.
A Chardonnay wine would pair nicely with this dinner.
Consider orange slices and orange zest as an alternative.
Your comments welcome.