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Braised chicken with fennel and saffron recalls flavors of Provence

Other than a glass of rosé and blooming fields of lavender, nothing calls to mind Provence more than bouillabaisse.
This image released by Milk Street shows a recipe for braised chicken with fennel and saffron. (Milk Street via AP)

Other than a glass of rosé and blooming fields of lavender, nothing calls to mind Provence more than bouillabaisse. The brothy soup, originally from the port city of Marseille, combines whatever shellfish and white fish were caught fresh with iconic flavors such as saffron, fennel, tomato and garlic.

Absent a serious trip to the fishmonger, though, it’s not easy to pull off on a weeknight. Still craving the flavors, we instead nodded to that tradition by applying the flavors to meaty braised chicken thighs.

In this recipe from our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region, we deeply brown tomato paste to lay the foundation of flavor for the braising liquid. Deglazing the pan with dry white wine adds acidity, while scraping up the flavorful browned bits ensures that no flavor goes wasted.

Fresh fennel, garlic, orange zest and saffron give the braise a rich, heady perfume and an unmistakably Mediterranean flavor. Any unoaked dry white wine works well here, but ideally look for one produced in southern France, such as white Côtes du Rhône or marsanne.

We use strips of orange zest instead of grated zest to lend citrusy notes to the braise. A sharp Y-style vegetable peeler is the best tool for peeling away zest strips, but try to remove only the colored peel, not the bitter white pith just underneath.

Serve the chicken with toasted crusty bread drizzled with olive oil.

Provençal Braised Chicken

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed, patted dry and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 wide strips orange zest (each about 2 inches long), plus 2 tablespoons orange juice

1/2 cup dry white wine

¼ teaspoon saffron threads

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn

In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper; set aside. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, fennel and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, garlic, pepper flakes and orange zest. Cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste begins to darken and stick to the pot, about 4 minutes. Reduce to medium and add the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the liquid is almost evaporated, about 3 minutes.

Add the chicken, 3 cups water and the saffron, then stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to medium-low and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until a skewer inserted into the chicken meets no resistance, about 15 minutes.

Off heat, remove and discard the zest strips. Stir in the orange juice and about half the basil, then taste and season with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining basil.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more weeknight-friendly recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press