Sunday, July 15, 2007


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 18 - Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs with a Fennel Seed Crust and Sweet Cherry Compote

If I were still in New Zealand, I'm not sure that I would have participated in this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, for the theme is Red and White. What food has these colours during Winter? There is salsify, parsnip, and...what? Red onions maybe. And that is a bit of a stretch. Under the glorious Summer sun of Southern California, I find almost too much inspiration. Clearly, I am just difficult.

Reading Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers At Lucques has been a great ally in almost one year of cooking, and I purposely left it in the US for me to come back to. It was the first text I turned to for inspiration. I especially liked the sound of Ms. Goin's Roman Cherry Tart, though it technically falls under her Spring collection of menus, and I did not fancy making pastry - not yet anyway. The cherry compote sounded promising; it got the ball rolling.

For my first home-cooked meal back in the States - that I cooked, I mean - I did not want to miss out on using fennel, which is expensive and does not seem to be available all year in Auckland. And I have been having serious withdrawal issues. Roasted vegetables is a fabulous idea for a Summer lunch, but white vegetables? Ugh...I couldn't figure out what to do until I rummaged through the vials of spices...fennel seeds. Now we're talking.

I pretty much followed Ms. Goin's Sweet Cherry Compote, but used half the amount of cherries, more vanilla bean and kept the same amount of brandy (she suggests using grappa, too, if you happen to have any on hand). Of course, use whatever cut of meat you prefer - I'm just a thighs kinda guy. (Sorry, if you're vegan or vegetarian - you're on your own here.) We served these with a simple salad of mixed leaves (radicchio and romaine), walnuts, and a vinaigrette.

Sweet Cherry Compote
(From Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers At Lucques)

1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon and 1/5 cup water
1 vanilla bean
1/5 cup sugar
1 pound cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons brandy

1) Make a slurry by stirring 1/2 tablespoon of water into the cornstarch. Reserve.
2) Split the vanilla bean, empty the innards out into a medium sized saucepan with a paring knife. Throw the now hollow pod in, too.
3) Add sugar (not in a mound, but scattered all over the base of the saucepan) and 1/5 cup of water.
4) Turn heat on to medium and cook the mixture without stirring.
5) When the mixture turns an amber colour, swirl the saucepan to ensure even colouring.
6) Once darker amber, add the cherries and swirl the pan.
7) Pour the brandy over the vanilla and caramel-slicked cherries, then turn down the heat to low, allowing the cherries to simmer and soften.
8) Take the cherries out with a small sieve and put them in a bowl. Keep aside.
9) Turn heat up to medium-high and stir the slurry into the juices. Keep stirring until liquid has thickened (approximately 90 seconds).
10) Pour liquid over the cherries, stir, and let cool. The cherries should hold their shape but will easily yield to the touch (or teeth!).

Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs with a Fennel Seed Crust

4 chicken thighs, approximately 1.25 pounds, at room temperature
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1) With a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds, salt, and pepper, or at least until reasonably ground. You don't have to be perfect here if you don't mind munching on the odd whole seed or two.
2) Cover both sides of the chicken thighs with the fennel seed powder.
3) In a 10"/25cm frying pan, swirl in the olive oil and turn the heat up to high.
4) Put the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down.
5) Once the skin is golden, flip the thighs over. This could take 6-8 minutes.
6) Fry on the other side until the thighs are cooked all the way through, approximately 3 minutes.

This is a beautiful pairing. Sweet but not tooth-achingly so on account of the savoury dimensions of the fennel seeds. You can serve your glorious red cherry compote in a separate bowl for people to help themselves to or even serve it on the side of the chicken. Instead of crossing both knife and fork over to a pile of compote, I spread the compote around the chicken. This does not make for a glamourous presentation, but it ensures that I easily get a cherry half with each mouthful of chicken.

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This sounds delightful! Love the idea of the sticky sweet compote and the aniseed-y fennel together.
Shaun, the compote looks wonderful. I wouldn't even mind the cherries just scattered through your salad with some fennel seed-crusted goat's cheese.

How does it feel to go from the depths of winter to th height of summer?
I really like the sound of this one, - love fruit and meat together.

It must be funny going from Winter to Summer, hope you are having a fab time :)
Shaun thank you for this idea and the paring. Will definitely try it.
Really interesting Shaun. I am working on liking meat and fruit pairings and this one looks great. Thank you for being here again for WCC.
Wendy - This is a fabulous combination. Cheeries and fennel grow together in southern France, so it seemed a no-brainer pairing here. And though sweet, the compote balanced out the savoury edge of the chicken (heightened by the addition of salt).

Lucy - Yes, keeping the compote on hand for as long as the cherry season lasts would be great for all sorts of touches, such as adding to your aforementioned salad. I have quickly acclimatised, which has been good, but I hope I don't get sick when I go back to cooler weather mid-September.

Kelly-Jane - I, too, like fruit and meat pairings, so long as the balance is right - venison and blueberries is another favourite of mine. Thank you for your kind thoughts - I am enjoying my time with Eric immensely.

Cynthia - I hope you enjoy it. The pairing is not so unusual when you try it all together.

Sara - I love the WCC and was so glad to participate again - the months seem to come and go so quickly, as do some of the food blog events that I miss out on. I hope you try this pairing before the cherry season is over.
Beautiful! I can't wait to try this. Oh, how I love fennel seed. I find myself sneaking it in all sorts of things.

Doncha just love Sunday Suppers at Lucques? It's such a gorgeous book.
What an interesting combination -- especially the fennel. And I definitely have to check out that cookbook.
Christina - I find fennel in all its forms very addictive. My favorite use for fennel seeds is as they are here, as part of a crust/rub. As for Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques", it really helped me make the most of my farmers' market visits, and the menus provide a million ideas. This is a book to always keep around - an American classic.

Kellypea - This is a lovely combination, lending the chicken thighs (my favorite part of the chicken) some elegance and a bit of spunk. Sumac also makes a great crust, especially with steak. I urge you to have a look at Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" - it has changed my cooking life.
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