Chicken and fennel au gratin

One of the first dishes we tried out of the massive tome The Silver Spoon was this recipe for chicken with fennel. I’d never had fennel before I’d tried this dish, but instantly knew it was something I could get on board with. This used to be a staple in our house, a go-to recipe that was relatively straightforward and quick to make. I think our desire to branch out into new culinary exploits lead us away from this old favourite. No time like the present to reunite!

Recipe

from The Silver Spoon
Serves 2

1 fennel bulb, trimmed
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced
1/8 cup butter
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/8 cup milk
pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a roasting pan with butter. Cook fennel bulb in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain. Slice fennel and spread out in the prepared pan. Top with chicken and season with salt. Spoon béchamel sauce over the chicken and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

For the béchamel sauce: Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Pour in all the milk, whisking constantly until it starts to boil. Season with salt, lower heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes. It should not taste floury. Remove pan from heat. Season to taste and add nutmeg.

Musings

A few notes on preparation: As we’d recently made crème fraîche (1 cup whipping cream mixed with 1 tbsp buttermilk and left out for a day), David substituted in about 1 cup for the milk and mixed in an 1/8 cup milk. It made the béchamel very smooth. And instead of butter, he used pork belly fat during the making of the sauce. In the interest of portion size, we only used 1 chicken breast between the two of us.

Pretty, darn delicious. It had been a fair while since we’d had this dish, and all the reasons I enjoyed it before came flooding back. The fennel adds such a great flavour, a bit sweet, yet herbal. And of course, I cannot complain about a classic béchamel, rich and deliciously creamy. We paired this with a classic mushroom risotto, which went surprisingly well together. Parfait!

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