This vibrant, tangy dish, which rings in autumn on the Balearic Islands, is an example of the Moorish influence on Spanish food. The use of fruits and nuts in Balearic cooking stems from Arabic occupation and many fruits and vegetables were introduced onto the islands at the time. If you look around closely, you’ll even find remnants of dry-stone walls that form hillside terracing, along with surviving irrigation channels for agriculture, which are still used today.
This dish is a steadfast ode to the era and a sign of its long-lasting influence on Balearic daily life. It’s also popularly made with quail or duck—another Moorish influence.
Pomegranate and Fennel Chicken
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 (1.8 kg / 4 lb) chicken, butterflied (ask your butcher to do this for you)
- Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced, plus 1 garlic bulb, halved crossways
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 2 large pomegranates, arils removed
- 100 ml (3 1/2 fl oz) pomegranate molasses
- 60 ml (2 fl oz / 1/4 cup) dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 red onion, sliced into 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick rounds
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 1 fennel bulb, sliced into 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick rounds, fronds reserved
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 25 g (1 oz) walnuts, roughly chopped
- Salad leaves, to serve
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper and lay flat on a large plate. Transfer to the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes, but preferably a few hours, to dry the skin a little.
- Meanwhile, heat 11/2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the onion. Cook for 6–8 minutes, until starting to soften, then stir through the minced garlic and bay leaf. Cook for 2 minutes, then add half the pomegranate arils, the molasses, sherry and sugar. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and gently simmer for 10–12 minutes, until the mixture has thickened and reduced by one-third. Remove and discard the bay leaf, then remove the pan from the heat and blitz the mixture with a hand-held blender until smooth. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve to remove the aril pulp and set aside in a bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) convection.
- Place the red onion, garlic bulb, thyme and fennel in a large baking dish. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the remaining pomegranate arils, drizzle over 11/2 tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the butterflied chicken on top of the vegetables and rub with 1 tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle over the fennel seeds, season with salt and pepper, then transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes or until the skin starts to turn golden. Remove the dish from the oven and baste the top of the chicken with 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate sauce. Add 250 ml (81/2 fl oz/1 cup) of water to the dish, then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C (320°F) and roast the chicken for a further 45 minutes.
- Increase the temperature back to 220°C (430°F) and baste the chicken with 2 more tablespoons of sauce and add another 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) of water to the dish. Bake for a final 6–8 minutes, until the chicken skin is dark and dry.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dress the chopped walnuts with a little olive oil and salt.
- Transfer the roast chicken and caramelized fennel and onion to a serving platter and scatter over the the remaining pomegranate arils and the dressed walnuts. Serve with the remaining pomegranate sauce, the fennel fronds and a few salad leaves on the side.