I didn’t learn to cook meat properly until this year. I was a vegetarian for about ten years, and before that I sparingly purchased raw meat. I didn’t know the difference between good and bad meat, and the preparation I was most familiar with was grilling. Even then I couldn’t tell you how to get a juicy, tender chicken breast.

Given my exhaustive list of allergies, I gave up my predominantly vegan diet last year. I still eat on average only one serving of meat per week, and eggs once or twice. I’m allergic to fish and don’t care for pork, so I stick to chicken most weeks and beef when a hankering comes on.

We’ve mentioned it before, but our co-op stocks wonderful, local and organic chicken and beef. I can finally taste the difference between a lower quality brand and our favorites. Following some trial and error, I can now do these beautiful cuts justice by cooking them well.

Because I choose very lean meats, like chicken breast and low-fat beef, I have to be especially careful with my cooking methods. I prefer my steak very rare, while chicken must always be cooked through completely. Chicken needs to be handled gingerly as a result of its low fat content and longer cooking times. My best piece of advice is to keep it in as moist an environment as possible while cooking by either covering it on the cook top or pairing it with juicy vegetables or fruits in the oven.

I had no idea if blood oranges tasted remarkably different from navel oranges when I picked them up at the store. I was too intrigued by their color to pass them up, however. I immediately began wondering what I might pair them with. I knew citrus complements chicken, although I do not care at all for sweet meat dishes. I definitely wouldn’t be adding honey or heaps of balsamic vinegar.

Instead, I supplemented with fennel, rosemary, and anise seed to balance the sweet nature of the orange. While I was tempted to toss carrots into the mix, I had recently made a meal including both chicken and carrots and didn’t want to replicate that pairing. I grabbed my radicchio (see this Wednesday’s recipe) out of the fridge and baked that alongside the chicken.

Skin-on split breast is an ideal candidate for baked dishes such as this one, but you could also certainly substitute chicken thighs. Make sure your baking dish crowds the chicken and vegetables a bit to avoid drying. As always, feel free to adjust seasonings based on what you have on hand and don’t be afraid to experiment!

Blood Orange & Fennel Chicken

Ingredients – serves 4

  • 4 split skin-on chicken breast
  • 1 blood orange, sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bulbs fennel, white parts only, quartered
  • 3T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T anise seed
  • 2 T fresh thyme
  • 2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Coat chicken in olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, anise seed, and rosemary.
  3. Pour broth into rectangular baking dish.
  4. Arrange chicken in baking dish to fit tightly.
  5. Toss chopped fennel and smashed garlic in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  6. Arrange oiled fennel and garlic around chicken breasts.
  7. Douse balsamic vinegar over chicken breasts.
  8. Cover chicken breasts with orange slices.
  9. Finish by sprinkling with any remaining herbs, salt, and pepper.
  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until breasts are cooked through. Serve immediately.

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