Quick chicken saute sits on bed of fennel

Entertaining

Entertaining: This dish allows impromptu invitations to dinner and a movie, or maybe a video.

February 20, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

My husband and I often entertain spontaneously. The following is a typical scenario. While reading the newspaper at breakfast, we see a movie advertised that gets our interest, so we telephone friends to see if they would like to see it that night or the next. Enthusiastically, we add, "Why don't you come for a quick supper here before the film?"

I have a repertoire of dishes which I like to serve for such occasions. Robust soups, homemade pizzas or quick stove-top grilled Italian sandwiches called panini are all good choices. I usually add a salad and offer fruit and some store-bought cookies for dessert, and that completes the meal.

This past week, as I was testing a new recipe for sauteed chicken breasts with fennel, I realized that I could make this dish in about 45 minutes and that it would make a fine entree for one of our last-minute dinner and cinema soirees.

Boneless chicken breasts are pounded flat, then marinated briefly in lemon juice. While the poultry is marinating, I saute sliced fennel until it becomes a rich dark brown and takes on a slightly sweet caramel flavor. Then, in the same pan in which the fennel is cooked, I quickly saute the chicken and make a sauce using the pan drippings and some white wine. The chicken breasts look attractive served atop a bed of fennel, napped with the sauce, and garnished with some chopped tarragon.

A salad of mixed greens, cucumbers and red peppers tossed in a mustard vinaigrette dressing and a basket of warm, crusty French or Italian bread would make good accompaniments to this winter entree.

Even if you can't find a current movie to inspire you to do some impromptu entertaining, there's always the video store, where there are plenty of classics that would pair nicely with this delicious dish.

Quick Sauteed Chicken Breasts With Pan-Roasted Fennel

Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each), excess fat trimmed and discarded

kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 medium fennel bulbs

3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 cup white wine

1/3 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, optional

Pound chicken breasts with meat pounder or rolling pin to 1/4 - inch thickness. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Place in shallow, nonreactive pan. Pour lemon juice over chicken and marinate 20 to 30 minutes.

While chicken is marinating, prepare fennel. Halve fennel bulbs lengthwise and remove tough inner cores and discard. Cut fennel lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-wide strips.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add fennel and saute, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 1/3 cup chicken stock. Reduce heat. Cook, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes more. Fennel should be brown and tender when pierced with a knife. Season generously with salt, remove to side dish and cover with foil to keep warm while you cook the chicken.

Add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to pan in which fennel was cooked. Place over medium heat. Pat chicken dry. When oil is hot, add chicken and saute until browned and cooked all the way through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken and keep warm under foil while you prepare sauce.

Add remaining chicken stock and wine to pan. Deglaze pan by scraping up any brown particles with whisk. Cook until liquids are reduced by about one-third, 2 to 3 minutes. Add half-and-half and fennel seeds and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute more. Sauce will have body but not be very thick. Strain sauce.

Arrange fennel on warm serving platter and top with chicken. Nap chicken with sauce and sprinkle with tarragon and lemon zest.

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