Winter has been nipping at our heels in the Adelaide Hills of late, with a notable sartorial focus being placed by the locals on fleecy track pants, flannelette pyjamas, fluffy slippers or uggies and woolly hats. This is a time of the year when comfort takes precedence over elegance (for anyone over the age of 25, that is) and some among us begin to wonder just exactly what time is considered too early to slip into the aforementioned cosy night attire. Please be warned – anyone knocking on our door after about seven in the evening will not find us in a fit state to formally receive guests unless forewarned. This is also the time of year when winter is at it’s deepest, but this weekend saw the passing of the winter solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year – thus the summer light begins to glow ever so faintly at the end of the tunnel.
The winter solstice has much more significance in the icy northern hemisphere winters where it gets a good deal colder than here. In ancient times, winter was a hazardous and uncertain season with no guarantee that the subsistence rural communities of the colder climates were going to make it through to the end intact. Much depended upon careful planning during the harvest months and even more careful use of resources during the winter and the solstice celebrated the success of surviving the worst of it. Some communities observed it before the worst of the deep winter, making it the last of the feasting celebrations, using the fresh meat afforded by the killing off of cattle to avoid having to feed them through the winter.
The rituals associated with the winter solstice vary depending upon the cultural background of the tradition. Many pagan rituals include the use of fire to signify warmth, cleansing for the coming new season and the renewal of light . The ancient Romans kicked up their heels with feasting, gift-giving and days of Bacchanalian partying. While we complain of the cold here in the southern hemisphere, we really don’t generally do it all that tough so I stop short of celebrating with days of decadence and debauchery, but did invite some friends over for dinner.
I had some irresistibly soft and sticky Willabrand dried figs that I’d bought at Adelaide Showgrounds Farmers Market and wanted to combine them with some of the beautifully fat fennel bulbs that are in season. I surfed around on the interwebz for a bit searching for inspiration and eventually developed this chicken, leek, fig and fennel dish. It’s not the loveliest and most photogenic dish in the world, but it’s right up there for flavour and boasts something of the “wow” factor. If you can’t find fig syrup or vincotto, use honey instead, but do try to find the fennel pollen. It won’t overpower the dish with a fennel flavour, but adds a final burst of freshness that will surprise you. Add that to the fact that it is another of my simple one-dish-wonders and it’s ticked all my boxes. I hope you like it.
Winter Solstice Chicken, Leek, Fig & Fennel Ragout
- 1 kilo chicken chops chicken thighs on the bone, with or without skin - you decide
- 1 large or 2 small fennel bulb, sliced into wedges with base attached to hold together
- 2 large leeks sliced thinly
- 4 large carrots chopped in chunks
- 250 gms soft dried figs, roughly sliced
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup white wine
- 100 mls olive oil for frying
- fig syrup or vincotto
- fennel pollen available in gourmet stores
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Heat olive oil in shallow fry pan, season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown all over, in small batches. Set aside.
- Add more oil if needed, then add sliced leeks and sweat down until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Spread out in a large baking dish.
- Check oil again, then add the fennel wedges, browning on each side, but taking care not to break them up when turning. Distribute them in baking dish.
- Add browned chicken pieces to the baking dish, nestling them in on top of the leeks, among the fennel.
- Add the carrots and chopped figs.
- Pour over the hot stock and the wine.
- Cover with foil, place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, until thighs are cooked through.
- Remove thighs and set aside in a warm place.
- Stir vegetables gently then, leaving baking dish uncovered, return to oven and cook vegetables for further 5-10 minutes until the liquid is reduced and thickened.
- Return chicken to the dish, stir gently to coat with vegetables and sauce.
- Drizzle with fig syrup, sprinkle with fennel pollen and serve.
All of the photos used in this post were taken on my Iphone and, if you think they look familiar, were previously shared on my Instagram account. For these, and more, follow me on Instagram here.