I’m back from a little over three weeks of travel and I am so happy to be home again. I’ve always been a homebody, so being away from home for long periods of time makes me feel rootless and restless. Even when I am in New York I’ve been known to resist being out of the apartment for too long. I like to come home, regroup, and then go out again.
One of my trips was back home to visit my family. It was a somewhat special trip because I had a reunion of sorts with three of my friends from high school, two of whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years. I marveled at how little we have changed in some things (our looks in general, our mannerisms, many of our interests) and how much in others (the inability of some us to read menus in dim restaurant lights, having teenage kids).
The older I get, the more I find myself going down memory lane and remembering little details about my childhood. The four of us, along with my sister who was there with us, remembered and laughed about some silly things, like our predilection for writing bad poems which we exchanged and commented on with the seriousness of a grand literary salon.
Inevitably, we compared our teenage years with those of their own kids. And, as it seems to be the habit of every generation, we lamented the fact that “back in our days” things were different, or better, or less complicated. Truth be told, things were simpler then. We were a lot more innocent, as was the world in which we lived. With no Internet or any connected devices, our world was limited to what was physically close to us and that made things a lot less complex.
While I was at home, I also did one of my favorite activities: go to the grocery store. I love to walk the aisles and rediscover food that I grew up with but have either completely forgotten or haven’t tasted in years. Like the slightly sweetened sesame rusks called glystarkes or the fried dough balls soaked in honey syrup called loukoumades. Every morning I ate a fresh kolokoti, a turnover filled with cooked pumpkin, raisins, and bulgur wheat.
I started this blog post thinking I was going to somehow bring it back to the taste of licorice or anise, which is a key element of this recipe I want to share with you today. I had envisioned talking about how as a kid I watched The Little House on the Prairie and always wondered what this “sweet root” (as the greek subtitles translated it) was that the kids seemed to buy at the pharmacy. And how it turned out to be licorice, a word that comes from the greek glykoriza which means sweet root. And how I realized I hated licorice, though I still like ouzo, especially on a hot summer night, turned milky with the addition of ice cold water.
But in the end, I couldn’t really find my way to all that and I figured I would just give you this recipe from “Jerusalem: A Cookbook.” It’s an extraordinary dish, made even more amazing by its simplicity.
Chicken with Clementines, Fennel, and Ouzo – Slightly adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Makes 4 servings
6 1/2 tablespoons / 100ml ouzo (or other anise flavored drink like arak or pernod)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons grain mustard
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1lb or 500gr)
2 – 2 1/2 lbs skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
4 clementines, unpeeled, sliced horizontally very thin (about 1/4 inch)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Put the first eight ingredients in a large bowl and whisk well. Cut each fennel bulb in half lengthwise and then cut each half into 4 wedges. Add the fennel to the bowl along with the chicken thighs, clementine slices, thyme, and fennel seeds. Using your hands, mix everything well and then cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight (if you don’t have the time, skip the marinating stage).
Preheat the oven to 475º F / 220º C. Transfer the chicken and all the ingredients in the bowl, along with the liquid marinade, in a baking sheet that is large enough to accommodate everything without being overcrowded (this will help the chicken to brown). Make sure that the skin of the chicken thighs is facing up. Put the pan in the preheated oven and roast for 35-45 minutes until the chicken is brown and cooked through.
Remove from the oven. Lift the chicken, fennel and clementines from the pan and put on a serving platter. Cover and keep warm. Pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the sauce is reduced by one third. You should be left with about 1/3 cup (80 ml). Pour the hot sauce of the chicken and top with some parsley before serving.