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Braised Chicken and Fennel with Creamy Polenta

Tomato paste is a flavorful gluten-free thickener with the bonus of adding great color to braises and stews. The products that come in a squeezable tube will stay fresh for months in the refrigerator. Start the polenta while the chicken is braising in the broth. It will be ready by the time the chicken finishes cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 oz. (45 g) chopped pancetta
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered, cored and sliced, fronds
      reserved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup  (4 fl. oz./125 ml) dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup  (4 fl. oz./125 ml) gluten-free chicken broth

For the polenta:

  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups (16 to 20 fl. oz./500 to 625 ml) water (depending
      on cooking method)
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz./80 g) gluten-free medium-grind cornmeal, such
      as Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 to 4 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino romano
      cheese (optional)
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fennel fronds

Directions:

Using poultry shears, cut the chicken breasts in half crosswise. Pat dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Pour off the fat from the pan and return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and fennel seeds and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the onion, sliced fennel and bay leaves and sauté until the vegetables begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the wine and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up the browned bits.

Return the chicken to the pan along with any juices accumulated on the plate. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes, turning the pieces over halfway through cooking. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, make the polenta: To prepare it in a microwave, in a microwavable bowl, stir together 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml) water, the cornmeal, olive oil, the 1/2 tsp. salt and a generous amount of pepper. Place in the microwave and cook at the high setting for 5 minutes. Stir thoroughly, then return to the microwave and cook at the high setting for 5 minutes more. Stir well. Stir in the cheese and fennel fronds, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

To prepare the polenta on the stovetop, in a heavy saucepan, combine 2 1/2 cups (20 fl. oz./625 ml) water, the olive oil, the 1/2 tsp. salt and a generous amount of pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Return the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and simmer slowly, stirring frequently, until the polenta is thick, about 18 minutes. Stir in the cheese and fennel fronds, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Divide the polenta between 2 warmed plates. Top with the chicken and sauce. Sprinkle with minced fennel fronds and serve immediately. Serves 2.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Weeknight Gluten Free, by Kristine Kidd (Weldon Owen, 2013).