Slow-Roasted Fennel and Oregano Chicken

Here’s a one-pot, set-it-and-mostly-forget-it dish that’ll make the whole house cozy.

It’s adapted only slightly from Alison Roman, whose new cookbook, Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over, was recently featured in the New York Times Food Section—and is definitely going on my Christmas list.

Just note that this is a low-and-slow dish, with a prep-to-table elapsed time of 3-1/2 to 4 hours. Now, nearly all of that clocktime is hands-off, but know that this may not be an ideal project for a worknight.

Slow-Roasted Fennel and Oregano Chicken

I love the herbal balance fresh fennel provides here (there’s plenty of sweet in the caramelized garlic and tomatoes), but if you’re not a fan, you can skip it. If you can spare the time, though, do take a moment to pinch or push out the gel from the tomatoes. You’ll get a jammier sauce in the end. 

  • 1 4-pound(ish) whole chicken
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle or chopped with a knife
  • big handful of fresh oregano, rinsed and dried, leaves stripped from half
  • 1-1/2 lbs cherry, grape, or other small tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small bulbs fresh fennel, shaved or sliced thinly
  • 1 – 2 heads of garlic, halved cross-wise
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 – 6 slices of rustic bread, toasted (I used Table Bread from Lost Bread Co)
DSCN1607
The last of my 2019 Orange Currants and Early Girls helped make this first-of-2019 roast chicken a winner.

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Let it rest in a roasting pan for 15 minutes while you prep the tomatoes, garlic, and fennel.

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If you use a knife instead of a mortar or spice grinder, be aware that the fennel seeds may fly.
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Don’t let fresh fennel intimidate you. Trim off the stalks, then take a thin slice off the bottom of the bulb. Stand it upright and cut straight down through the middle), then slice away.

Stuff the oregano sprigs into the chicken’s cavity. Surround the chicken with the tomato halves and fennel pieces, nestle in the garlic, and toss the butter pieces and remaining oregano leaves on top. Drizzle the olive oil over the whole thing (chicken and veggies), then sprinkle or pat the fennel seeds onto the bird.

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Roast for about 3 hours, until the chicken is golden brown and the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh reads at least 165ºF.

Add the vinegar to the tomatoes, give a quick stir, and let everything rest for 15 minutes.

To serve, fish out a few of the roasted garlic cloves and spread them on the toasts. Spoon on a layer of the jammy tomato-fennel mixture, and top with sliced or pulled chicken.

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I used a knife and fork, but, yes, this is basically roast-chicken bruschetta.

Leftovers make brilliant chicken salad—just add a diced stalk of celery and a couple bloops of mayo. Or turn the carcass into a garlicky stock to save for later, or add some cannellini beans, farro, kale, and shredded chicken and tomatoes and have soup at the ready for tomorrow.

What to Drink

Though I normally think of Marjorie and Stéphane Gallet’s Côtes Catalanes Domaine Le Roc des Anges Segna de Cors for heartier dishes like grilled lamb or sausages, the newly arrived 2017 is a bit brighter and more savory than previous vintages. Expect aromas of warm, blackberry jam, fresh fennel, black olives, and a hint of cedar smoke. This is juicy and luscious red wine, with a core of dark-berry fruit and dry, silky tannins that give you just enough grip to balance out the rich, rendered chicken.

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