№ 81 - Chicken Salad with Fennel and Fennel Flowers
Combining fennel and lemon is generally a solid move but this recipe makes it more of a meal by adding chicken breast. I'm usually bored by chicken breasts, especially the boneless, skinless kind, but this preparation is an exception. The breasts are poached in hot broth off the stove resulting in outrageously moist meat that is just right for this salad. It's also outrageously easy. Altogether perfect for a hot summer day.
Fresh fennel flowers intensify the fennel's sweet, anise-like flavor and aroma wonderfully, but they're not a must and you could substitute with a few chopped fennel fronds or just leave them out.
I adapted the recipe from Hank Shaw's excellent Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. The original is for wild pheasant, but as an unarmed, car-less Manhattanite, I don't get my hands on game birds very often. Luckily the recipe is fantastic for chicken too.
At least 1 hour prior to cooking, season the chicken breasts on both sides with kosher salt and return to the fridge. Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan or small pot. Remove from the heat and place the chicken breasts in the broth, taking care to submerge all parts. Cover and let "steep" for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, zest 1 ½ lemons and squeeze enough lemon halves to get 6 Tbsp of juice. Place the zest and juice in a mixing bowl along with the olive oil and some sea salt. Cut the mini crowns off the large fennel crowns and add to the bowl. Trim and wash the fennel bulb, chop into bite-sized (1-inch or so) triangular pieces and toss with the dressing to prevent browning.
When the chicken breasts are done steeping, remove them from the broth to cool. Save the broth for another use or freeze it. (It has even better chicken flavor now but it is no longer low sodium/unsalted.) Once the breasts are cool enough to handle, tear them into bite-sized pieces with your hands. Toss with the fennel in the bowl and add more salt or lemon juice to taste. Rest the salad for an hour before serving or refrigerate for later.