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Recipe: Chicken Traybake with Bitter Orange and Fennel

Bonus recipe from Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food by Nigella Lawson.

By
Kara Rota
3-minute read

I don't think I could say how often I've made this since settling into my new kitchen. Not that I'm ashamed of being repetitive - I find that comforting - but I've simply cooked it too often to count. It will always, no matter wherever and whenever I cook it, be the taste of my new home, evoking the strength and robust sense of coziness that emanates from that.

I never quite feel that a house is a home until a chicken has been roasted in it (with apologies to all vegetarians and, indeed, chickens) and this, as it cooks, fills your kitchen with its gentle anise and citrus scent, working as well in midwinter with in-season Seville oranges as it does in summer with eating oranges, their sweetness soured by lemon. Apropos of this, although I normally consider not using the zest of a lemon a culinary hanging offense, here I don't use it, as it would flagrantly, if fragrantly, overpower the essential orange.

I always get the chicken in its marinade a day ahead, but if you don't have time, an hour would be fine (out of the refrigerator, but in a cool place) so long as you start off with good chicken. If you can afford good organic chicken, buy it. It is this chicken that provides a strong natural "gravy," and the other reasons to do so are even more compelling.

The fennel I've been finding lately has been large but no less full of herbal flavor for all that; if you find only smaller bulbs of fennel, maybe use 3, and just quarter them.

As for what to serve alongside, depending on the time of year, I'd say a pile of mashed potatoes or steamed baby white potatoes and perhaps some just-blanched sugar snaps, glossed with butter or oil, for crunch.

Yield: SERVES 6

Ingredients

  • 2 large bulbs fennel (approx. 2. pounds total, though less wouldn't matter)

  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon or so for drizzling on the chicken when cooking

  • Zest and juice of 2 Seville oranges (scant 1/2 cup juice), or zest and juice of 1 eating orange and juice of 1 lemon

  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher salt

  • 4 teaspoons fennel seeds

  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  • 12 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in, preferably organic

Directions

Remove the fronds from the fennel and put them in a resealable bag in the refrigerator for serving. I discard (that's to say, eat) the tubey bits of the fennel, but if you have a roasting pan big enough, use everything. Cut the bulbs of fennel into quarters and then cut each quarter, lengthways, into 3. Leave on the cutting board while you get on with the marinade.

Placing a large resealable bag in position inside a wide-necked measuring cup or similar, pour in the oil, add the orange zest and juice (and lemon juice, if using), and spoon in the salt, fennel seeds, and mustard. Stir briefly to mix.

Remove the bag from the cup and, holding it up, add a quarter of the chicken pieces, followed by a quarter of the fennel pieces, and so on until everything's been used up.

Seal the bag tightly at the top, lay the bag in something like a lasagna dish, and squelch it about so that you make the small amount of marinade cover as much of the chicken as possible. It will look as if it isn't enough, but it is, I promise. Leave in the refrigerator overnight or up to 1 day.

When you want to cook, remove the marinating chicken and fennel from the refrigerator and tip the contents of the bag - marinade and all - into a large shallow roasting pan (I use a half sheet pan with a lip of 1/2 inch). Using tongs, or whatever implement(s) you prefer, arrange the chicken pieces so that they are sitting, skin-side up, on top of the fennel. Leave it for 30 minutes or so, to come up to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Drizzle some more golden oil onto the chicken, and cook in the oven for 1 hour, by which time the fennel will be soft and the chicken cooked through and bronzed on top.

Put the chicken and fennel onto a warmed serving plate and put the pan over a medium heat (use a saucepan if your pan isn't stove-friendly) and boil the juices, stirring as you watch it turn syrupy; this should take about 1 1/2-2 minutes in the pan, and about 5 in a saucepan.

Pour the reduced sauce over the chicken and fennel, and then tear over the reserved fennel fronds.

Notes

MAKE AHEAD NOTE

The chicken can be marinated 1 day ahead. Store in refrigerator until needed.

STORE NOTE

Cool leftovers, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Recipes reprinted from Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food. Copyright ©2015 by Nigella Lawson. Photographs by David Loftus. Published by Flatiron Books. 

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.