Bitter Orange Chicken Traybake with Fennel & Cardamom.
Not enough credit is given to acidity. I mean, trying to get credit in the food world is a hard enough task as it is. People always either favour the sweet or the savoury in life, but not so much mind is ever paid to the bitter step sister in between. There’s something deliciously appealing about sourness and acidity because it’s the one taste you almost resist but once it hits your tongue, you instantly want more. It’s like being a child and eating the sour sherbet or the ‘fizzy’ sweets. You almost don’t want to, but are always so glad you did.
I wanted to create a recipe built purely on that basis. The basis of pure acidity and throat spiking sourness that comes with a full bodied roundness that doesn’t make your face wrinkle up like a grandmother’s earlobe. I knew I was going to start with chicken, because it has such unique flavour capturing principles that you could throw everything but the kitchen sink at it and it would still be able to hold its own.
When I started crafting a recipe around the idea of bitterness and acidity, I knew an orange was where I wanted to go. It’s a lot rounder than that of a citrus like limes or lemons and I also happen to find the zest of an orange so marred with sweetness that it can act as a seasoning. When developing this recipe I tried so many different things in the name of culinary balance. I tried adding smokiness and sweetness just to make the bitterness not seem to palette scorching. Eventually I decided that this needed to be an all or nothing dish. If you’re going for full throated acidity, then it needs to be so – with no compromise. Enter fennel seeds.
2K16 ‘foodies’ (hate that word) tend to hate fennel. Along with anchovies and coriander. I have no space for this kind of negativity. Fennel seeds are the perfect aniseed specked addition to a recipe with roots in bitterness. The crushed up fennel seed along with the cardamom seeds gives a liquorice and ginger amalgamated note to the bittery snap of orange that make this dish absolutely sing. I have served this to a friend who absolutely hated fennel out of pure spite and he was nothing but converted from the first bite. Plus, there’s nothing quite like a tray bake. It gets me every single time. If I can switch up a recipe to become one that can fit in a single tray – I will do it.
Preheat the oven to 200C – we always start here, don’t we? Take a skinless chicken breast and score it lightly on the surface with a knife before placing in a zip lock bag. Squeeze in the juice of a whole orange (don’t discard the orange!), add a little shot of olive oil and some salt and black pepper and leave to one side.
Slice up a bell pepper (I used orange purely for aesthetic) and drop into a roasting tray. Liberally slice up a red onion and halve some small baby potatoes before scattering into the tray. Drizzle over a little olive oil. In a pestle and mortar (or a bowl and a blunt object, who cares?) crush up some fennel seeds as finely as possible along with the seeds of some cardamom pods. I bash the pod with the pestle, tip the seed into the mortar and discard the pod. Once this has combined into a fragrant seasoning, scatter over the roasting tray’s contents.
Take the chicken from earlier and place on top of the pepper and potato mix before pouring over any oily orange juice from the bag. Take the orange husks from earlier and grate a little of the zest over the entire tray bake before sliding in the oven and roasting for roughly 40 minutes until the chicken has bronzed up. I serve this on a bed of ripped Chinese lettuce however some steamed salted spinach would work just fine.
I’m hoping this recipe will introduce some much needed acidity into your life. I’m all for being dainty and cute with the sweets and I’m also up for being brash and confident with the savouries, but sometimes in life you just need something sour to bring your body to life and allow a plate of food to do all the talking you haven’t got the energy for. In a world of sweet people, sometimes we just need to salute the bitter among us, right?