There is so much going on in this dish. I absolutely loved it. Beautiful pearl couscous is a backdrop to a sauce that is bursting with broth and orange juice enhanced by cumin and paprika. Nicely crisped chicken thighs are gently braised in this sauce with sliced carrots and fennel, black olives, and golden sultana raisins. There's sweetness, saltiness, the nasal herb fragrance and flavour of the fennel, and those spices ... oh, yeah and chicken and carrots! The final touch is slivered scallion greens and fennel fronds. The colors are gorgeous, the textures are a beautiful blend. This is a stellar dish.
I loved this dish ! You need to make this dish. Period. Peace.
1. Do use the pearl couscous. Do keep it really simple by using water as the liquid so that the couscous is the perfect palette for the sauce that gets drizzled over chicken and vegetables.
2. Do under cook the carrots and fennel initially so that they don't turn to mush during the braising portion of the cooking time.
3. Do heat the oil in the fry pan to a good heat before popping the spiced chicken thighs in the pan. You'll get that nice crisp browning on each side really fast and keep the center of the thighs pink and juicy and perfect for finishing in the braising sauce.
4. Do use the fennel fronds and scallion greens. They make such a pretty and flavourful finish to the dish.
Here's how I did things.
Chicken with Carrots and Fennel
adapted from a recipe in Power Foods
1 1/2 c. water
almost 1 c. pearl couscous
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
black pepper for sprinkling
2 tbsp. olive oil or peanut oil, heated in a deep frying pan
4 carrots, peeled and sliced kind of thinly on the diagonal
a large bulb of fennel, ends trimmed, cored, and sliced into thin 'coins'
1 tsp. cumin
1 (more) tsp. sweet paprika
2/3 c. golden sultana raisins (or dried apricots or dried prunes)
2/3 c. pitted black olives
2/3 c. orange juice
1/2 c. chicken broth
Making the Dish:
1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the couscous, stir once. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let sit to absorb the water.
2. Heat the oil in a deep fry pan over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, rub the chicken thighs with the paprika and salt measure. Place in the hot pan and don't move the thighs for about 3 minutes. Turn them and sprinkle generously with black pepper. Cook them for another 3 minutes til crisped on both sides.
3. Remove the crisped thighs to a dish. Add the prepped carrots and fennel to the hot pan and lower the heat to medium. Add a bit more oil if the thighs have absorbed most of the oil. Sauté the vegetables until they are slightly browned at the edges and smell wonderful but are still kinds hard.
4. Add the second paprika measure and the cumin and toss with the fennel and carrots, lowering the heat to low. When the spices have cured a bit, add the orange juice and chicken broth. Stir in the black olives and the sultanas.
5. Make hollows in the fruit and vegetables and lay the chicken thighs back into the pan. Pour in any juices from the chicken's resting dish.
6. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the pan, and braise the dish for about 20 minutes or so.
7. About five minutes before serving, add the scallion whites and some of the greens. Cover and wilt as the dish finishes.
8. To serve, spoon the chicken into a large shallow serving dish. Spoon the vegetables around the chicken, Pour the sauce over all. Sprinkle on the chopped fennel fronds and the scallion greens and serve with the couscous.