Elegant Roast Chicken with Baby Fennel
This simple Roast Chicken with Baby Fennel is perfect for busy weeknights, but elegant enough for Sunday dinner. It comes together quickly at the end of a busy day, cooks in one pot, and is light, balanced and flavorful.
When I’m busy, I’ve been known to prep this dish in the roasting pan first thing in the morning. I leave it covered in the fridge. Then, even the kids can pull the meal out, bring it to room temperature and pop it in the oven for dinner.
Fennel is an ingredient that entered my repertoire in South Africa. When I was a child on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, fennel was not a vegetable we found at our local farm stands or grocers.
So, when I first moved to Johannesburg — where gorgeous fennel is available year-round — I was flummoxed. What to do with this beautiful green vegetable? I was dying to try it, and began experimenting with all kinds of recipes.
Over the years, I have found that fennel’s delicate anise-like flavors and its crunch are divine in salads. However, when you cook with fennel, its sugars caramelize beautifully and lend a delicate sweetness to any dish.
Fennel is an under-appreciated vegetable outside its home region of Italy and Greece. If you have never cooked with fennel, I hope this recipe will give you the confidence to try it.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been wondering how to use up those lovely stalks and fronds left over from a recent salad, this recipe should come in handy. Since the fennel is added at the base for flavor, rather than for show, the fronds and stalks work beautifully here.
Tips for Roast Chicken
I know most of us are tired and impatient to eat at the end of a long day. If you’re anything like me, that’s why you get tempted to skip certain (seemingly superfluous) recipe steps. Sometimes, shortcuts are necessary. However, if at all possible, two steps I would advise not skipping are:
Turning the Chicken Halfway through the Roasting Time
Here in South Africa, our broiler hens are not outsized. However, if you are cooking in the US, where many chickens (not to mention turkeys) have been bred larger, the breasts have a tendency to dry out. I’ve found that by cooking the chicken (or turkey) breast side down for the first half of the roasting time, even the breasts come out juicy and delicious. If you’ve never tried this technique before, I strongly advise you to give it a go.
Resting the Chicken before Carving
This is the one step that is most tempting to skip, since it does require a bit of patience. However, a little wait before carving allows the chicken to finish cooking and the juices to be re-absorbed into the meat. If you’re carving board is overflowing with chicken juice in under 90 seconds, you’re probably carving the meat too soon.
Relax, make a salad, or pour yourself another glass of wine before carving. Whatever you do, take the time to rest the chicken a bit. It’s worth the wait. Bon appétit!