French-y, well-sourced, market-driven food is everywhere nowadays, so it takes a good cookbook to actually make me care about someone’s particular spin on the roast chicken or aioli. The Buvette cookbook makes you care.
Jody Williams is heavy on technique, in the kind of way that, when you read it, you recognize as either total hogwash or totally brilliant. (It’s totally brilliant.) I only ever “fork-crumble” my pecorino (and lots of other hard cheeses) anymore, and Williams’s method for oeufs brouillés, with a knob of butter stirred in at the end, makes scrambled eggs special. Williams also goes on about how much she loves using fennel pollen, which, as a mere mortal, I have not even actually tasted. But never fear, she created fennel salt as a near-substitute and, while I can’t speak about how well it approximates fennel pollen, I will say that I like this fennel salt stuff very much.
Here is what fennel salt is: ground up fennel seeds mixed with coarse salt. It is not hard to make and it keeps for a very long time. Many, many foods benefit from fennel salt finishing. I’m not sure why, but it is alchemy. Even if you don’t like fennel, I wouldn’t write fennel salt off quite yet. There’s something about the faint notes of fruity, licorice-y fennel that makes everything taste a little more deeply flavored; a little more savory. Williams uses the fennel salt on roast chicken, and I like it sprinkled on fried eggs and any vegetable. Being able to put together simple ingredients like these, and having them in my back pocket, makes me feel like a better cook.
Jody Williams’s fennel salt
Adapted from Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food
Wonderfully talented Julia Turshen co-wrote Buvette with Williams, and I could devote another whole blog post to how much I like Turshen’s work. But suffice it to say that the recipes probably owe at least some of their greatness to her, too.
- 3 tablespoons whole fennel seeds
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- Grind the fennel in a mortar and pestle or in a spice mill. (If you, in a pinch, use your coffee grinder, it gives your next few pots a nice anise-y aroma.)
- Mix the ground fennel with the salt thoroughly. Store in a jar up to a year.
Roasted chicken with fennel salt & herbes de Provence
- 1 whole chicken, patted dry inside and out
- 1 tablespoon fennel salt
- 1 tablespoon ground dried herbes de provence, or any woody herb
- Put the chicken on a platter. Rub it liberally with fennel salt and herbes de provence. Allow it to sit at room temperature for at least an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Roast chicken in a roasting pan or baking dish until a thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit, about 60 minutes for a 4-pound chicken. Let rest 10 minutes before carving and serving.