Buttermilk chicken with crunchy fennel slaw

This recipe is my take on American southern fried chicken, where chicken pieces, usually on the bone, are marinated in buttermilk, coated with crumbs and deep fried. I’ve gone for a much lighter approach by pan frying in a little oil and butter, but used the buttermilk, along with whole-grain mustard, to marinate chicken breasts, and Japanese panko breadcrumbs as my coating. The result is almost unbelievably tender chicken, and the subtle aniseed-like fennel and sweet apple in the slaw are a food marriage made in heaven. I’ve come slowly towards fennel, as in my childhood, aniseed was a studiously avoided flavour. I was the child who peeled off the layers of licorice in licorice all-sorts and left them for my father to eat, while gobbling up the sweet candy layers. Ouzo is still a bridge too far, but a baby fennel bulb, sliced very thinly, is now a taste I adore. The dressing on the slaw is also very light and uses buttermilk and Greek yoghurt rather than mayonnaise, so no guilt is necessary. If you are making ahead, don’t add the dressing until just before serving. The purple cabbage will share its colour with the dressing and turn it a pinky-purple. Pretty, but it’s nice to see all the bright colours of the carrot and parsley as well as the deep purple cabbage. This makes a great meal for a Friday night dinner and movie.

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Serves 4

4 small chicken breasts, about 150 g each
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
100 g panko breadcrumbs (in the Asian foods aisle in most supermarkets)
sea salt and black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon butter

Place the chicken breasts in a glass dish with the buttermilk and mustard and stir to coat well. Cover and leave in the fridge for about 30 minutes to marinate. Put the breadcrumbs onto a plate and then lift the chicken out of the marinade and coat well with the crumbs. It’s good if you can do this a little ahead of time and put the chicken back into the fridge for about 20 minutes. Heat the oil and butter in a shallow, non-stick frying pan until sizzling. Cook the chicken over a medium heat for 6 – 8 minutes each side, or until the coating is crispy and golden and the chicken cooked through. The cooking time does depend a little on how thick the thickest part of the chicken is. Season with salt and pepper  then  slice the chicken horizontally into 4 or 5 pieces and serve with the slaw.

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Fennel slaw:
2 cups finely sliced purple cabbage
1 cup finely sliced baby fennel (this is about 1 bulb)
1 cup julienned carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 sweet, red apple, julienned and tossed with the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

Combine the cabbage, fennel, carrot, parsley and apple in a medium-sized glass bowl. In another small bowl mix together the buttermilk, yoghurt and mustard. Just before serving, toss the dressing through the slaw.

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