Fennel Orange Chicken Thighs & The Best Way to Cook Chicken
I have a lot of clients who are quick to proudly proclaim their love of chicken breast. Much to my clients' dismay, you do not get a gold star in my office for such a chicken related infatuation. Your poultry preferences don't make you a better or healthier person. No shade to chicken breast here, when it's good it's delicious. But suffering through boneless, skinless chicken for health's sake makes me sad. Maybe it makes you sad too.
So let's talk about some delicious chicken then. I'm talking bone in, skin on goodness. (Disclaimer: I understand bone in chicken does take a bit longer to cook - so again opting for boneless doesn't mean you don't know good food. We all make food choices for different reasons).
I have a few favourite methods of cooking chicken, and I'm sure over time they will all show up here. But when I make chicken thighs, I have one game plan every time.
Inspired by a recipe in Letitia Ann Clark's Bitter Honey Cookbook and the rogue fennel bulb in my fridge, I settled on fennel and orange for these chicken thighs in question. I had fava beans hanging around (who am I without beans?) and the last of the garden leeks so I added both too. You can use any veggies and spices here, what's important is the method (sear + sauté + bake). Here's how it went down:
8 small-ish chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
*note: I think if you had skinless chicken it would still work, but you would need more oil to ensure it doesn't stick. If you have boneless chicken just cook it for less time.
just a touch of canola or grapeseed oil
lemon pepper seasoning (or any herby, garlicy spice mix), I used
1 large leek, thinly sliced into half moons (and cleaned super well)
1 fennel bulb, core removed and sliced thinly *save the fronds for serving and/or soup stock
1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds *optional but lovely
1/2 chili *optional but also lovely
3 garlic cloves, smashed or minced
1/2 cup fava beans (blanched and podded) - frozen/frozen peas also work
1/2 orange, zested then sliced thinly
handful of parsley, chopped finely
small handful of green olives *optional
Pat your chicken pieces dry with paper towel very well and place on a plate, skin side up. Season liberally with salt and lemon pepper seasoning on both sides. Let the meat come up to room temperature. Bonus points if you have time and fridge space to do this hours in advance and get these back in the fridge, uncovered, to dry out for a while. This gives you even crispier skin! If you do this, still bring them back up to room temp before you cook them.
Preheat a dutch oven or cast iron pan (something oven safe) over medium high heat with just a touch of oil. Preheat the oven to 425F. In batches if necessary, place the chicken in the pan, skin side down, and let it sear until it's nice and golden. The meat should release easily from the pan. Flip and cook for just a minute or two, you don't need it to be cooked through just yet. Remove and set on another plate, skin side up.
Somewhere in-between sanitize everything.
There is likely a ton of oil in your pan, so remove all but 1-2 tablespoons or so and please please save it. Your next soup or stew or pot of beans or tomato sauce will be so happy!
Keep the heat in the pan around low - medium and throw in your fennel, chili, leeks, and fennel seeds with a good hit of salt and pepper. Let these cook until they're getting soft, but they shouldn't be falling apart. About 10 minutes. Add the orange slices and fava beans, then give it a good stir. Place the chicken on top, still skin side up and scatter olives all over if you're using them. Get the whole thing in the oven for anywhere from 15-25 minutes, honestly depends on the size of the chicken thighs. If the veggies aren't quite done, remove the chicken and put the veg back in. If the chicken isn't but the veggies are on the brink of 'cooked to death' status, place the chicken in another oven safe dish and get that back in the oven.
Meanwhile, mix the orange zest, fennel fronds, and the parsley and set it aside. When the chicken is done, the juices should run clear then you pierce the meat with the tip of a knife. Scatter the herb-zest mix all over, serve, and enjoy rebellious dark meat chicken goodness.
I encourage you to take this and make it your own. Any veggie, spice, or herb combo works here. Harissa rubbed chicken with carrots and squash, Montreal steak spiced chicken with baby potatoes, mustard and herb rubbed chicken with cabbage and onions. There are no wrong answers here, only tasty chicken.