I’ve been extremely virtuous over the last twelve months – there’s not been a chicken carcass, nor fish, pork or beef bones that haven’t been turned into stock.
But this poses a problem: what to do as the freezer overflows with bulging ziplocks and tupperware filled with beige ice? There are only so many risottos and paellas I want to cook; and right now, I’ve no intention of making soup.
A Sunday supper a few weeks ago provided the opportunity for one new outlet that I’ll certainly repeat: fennel braised in chicken stock and a squeeze of orange juice.
The photo at the top is of the fennel before being braised. By the time it’s done, the vegetable is soft, sweet, tender, and turning translucent; fibrous fennel always works well when gentle heat slowly works away at it.
I figured that by infusing the fennel as it cooks with the flavour of an ever reducing, ever intensifying chicken stock (the remaining dregs of which double as roast dinner gravy) could only lead to positive results. But there were other reasons for trying this out, too: I often use half a star anise in my stocks, so the aniseed notes in the fennel fit well; and I knew that orange juice and zest would lift the dish and make it suitable for summer. On which note, the fruit is a beautiful match with fennel – if you’ve never tried it before, you’ll soon wonder where the combo has been all your life.
Do give it a go. It’s great with roast pork or chicken … from which you can make more stock.
Chicken stock and orange braised fennel2 large fennel bulbs 50g butter 500ml chicken stock Juice from 1/2 orange 5 or 6 strips of orange zest Salt, pepper Fresh thyme, if you have it
Set your oven to 160C
Put the stock in a small milk pan and reduce by 1/4, to start to intensify the flavour and thicken a little.
Trim the tops off the fennel – so there’s just a cm or two of the stalks remaining. Level out the bottoms – but try and keep the wrapping leaves intact. Cut in half from top to bottom. Then cut each half into three lengths – angling the knife into the middle for each cut.
Melt the butter in a heavy based frying pan. Brown the cut sides of fennel pieces to get a little colour. Maybe 1 minute on each side. In batches if you need.
Arrange the fennel pieces in a earthenware dish or small roasting tray. They should be packed in fairly tight. Cram in the orange zest (and a couple of sprigs of thyme if you have it) and season with salt and black pepper. Pour the stock over the fennel and squeeze in the juice – so that the liquid comes to 2/3 up the veg.
Take a piece of greaseproof paper that’s slightly bigger than your dish. Wet it under the tap. Crumple into a ball then open up again. Place this over the fennel and tuck the paper in at the sides.
Put the dish in the oven for about 40 minutes, quite possibly more. Turn the fennel pieces over after 25 minutes. Add more liquid if the stock is drying out (particularly if you couldn’t fit it all in to begin with).
It’s done when a fork easily pokes into the fennel, and the chicken stock is thick and glossy.