I’ve recently read a few blog posts titled “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner,” so I hopped on that naming bandwagon. Although our posts share the same title (or derivative thereof), only one details the author’s extreme enthusiasm for fennel. And that post is mine.
Chicken: what’s not to love? It’s healthy (sometimes), cheap (usually), and protein-packed (always). Not too long ago, I participated in a recipe contest whose goal was to emphasize that chicken breasts need not be boring. Personally, I have no problem with chicken — I don’t consider it boring so much as versatile. But I, like most people, go through phases during which you could not pay me to eat another g.d. chicken+veg stir fry.
I was in the midst of one such phase when I came across Eating Well‘s recipe for Indian-Spiced Chicken & Asparagus. We can all agree that the photo isn’t super attractive; in fact, it makes the dish look gloppy. BUT, driven by my desires to diminish our stock of frozen chicken breasts and try new recipes, I gave this guy a shot.
The results? Near-perfection. Like, astoundingly so. I served the chicken over udon noodles and paired it with Blue Moon’s Spring Blonde Wheat Ale (Hook’s choice, and a solid one). The spice blend and coconut milk elevate this dish to a level of taste transcendence.
What’s more, even the leftovers are good. I have this habit where I won’t even think about eating reheated chicken (too many textural hangups have I), but guess what? I reheated these leftovers for lunch, and they were almost exactly as good as the original dish. Not 100% as good — I’m not a rube, and I won’t make such an audacious claim — but so good that I ate every last piece of nuked chicken. SO THERE. I owe the dish’s nukability to its inclusion of fennel; the fennel, it seems, distracted me from any weird microwave aftertaste lingering in those chicken bits.
A few notes: I didn’t exactly follow EW‘s spicing instructions — rather than toasting/crushing the cumin and fennel seeds, I used the spices raw. (I used ground cumin, to no ill effect.) I also added extra ginger, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Note also that Hook and I used half the amount of chicken but didn’t reduce the amount of spice — we like our food spicy. Otherwise, I followed the recipe as written.
Do yourself a favor this Saturday evening: rather than getting take out, set aside 40 minutes and make this dish instead. It’s more flavorful — and less greasy — than any delivery meal, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have leftovers for Monday’s lunch.
Indian-Spiced Chicken and Asparagus (from Eating Well, March/April 2011)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-size chunks
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small fresh chile, seeded and minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 bunches asparagus (about 1 1/2 pounds), woody ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup “lite” coconut milk
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Toast cumin and fennel seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Finely grind in a spice grinder (such as a clean coffee grinder) or with a mortar and pestle.
- Toss chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the spice mixture and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to a plate.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, onion, garlic, chile and ginger; cook, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add asparagus, sprinkle with the remaining spice mixture, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer for 2 minutes more. Return the chicken and any accumulated juice to the pan and cook until the chicken is just cooked through and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.