This is a quickly made but excellent dish; it completely transforms chicken breasts which, although lean and tender, are often dull and dry. Not so here, combined with moist and mellow fennel in a cream sauce perfected by the unique sweet sharpness of balsamic vinegar. Serve with tagliatelle or waxy new potatoes and a green vegetable such as broccoli or petits pois.
Remove the skin from the chicken and slice the breasts fairly thinly crossways. Cut the base and top stalk off the fennel bulbs and remove any marked outer parts, then slice across thinly. Peel the garlic and chop finely. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over a medium to low heat. Add the fennel and sherry and cook, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes, until the fennel has softened. Then add the chicken slices and chopped garlic and stir around with the fennel for about 8 minutes or until the chicken is opaque and cooked through. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and turn into a shallow serving dish, leaving the oil and juices in the pan. Keep warm in the lowest possible oven.
Roughly crush the green peppercorns. Put the frying pan back over a medium heat. Bubble up the oil and juices and then add the crushed peppercorns. After stirring around for 1-2 minutes, pour in the cream, increase the heat and bring to the boil. Bubble for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Then add the balsamic vinegar and bubble for a final minute. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, pour the sauce over the chicken and fennel and serve at once.
© 1997 Josceline Dimbleby. All rights reserved.