Fennel may not be the most common ingredient in Paula’s kitchen, but we love it for its crisp texture and strong, refreshing flavor. Sometimes fennel is a hard sell; comparing it to licorice won’t make every kid eat it. But it’s in season through early spring, so give it a try!
Fun with Fennel!
Fennel is a Mediterranean vegetable and a member of the parsley family. Like parsley, it pairs well with soups, tomatoes, leafy greens, citrus, meats, fish, and potatoes, especially when sausage or bacon is involved, as in our Roasted Fingerlings. Restaurants often prepare it with pork, seafood, as a side, or in an Italian-style salad with things like orange segments, olives, or kale. Fennel seed is also a popular ingredient, used regularly in pork sausage, to complement the salty, smoky overtones. If you’re not sure about the taste of fennel, start out with a recipe that uses fennel seed, such as Quick Spicy Collards,The Lady’s Bouillabaisse, or Lighter Stuffed Turkey Breast.
How to Choose
All parts of the fennel plant are edible, including the stalks and delicate fronds, though usually these are reserved for soup stocks and garnishes. Fennel is packed with vitamin C and has been used to remedy bad breath and digestion. There are many kinds of cultivated and wild fennel (and many poisonous look-alikes), though most American grocers carry what is known as bulb fennel. Look for firm bulbs with green and white coloring, without splitting and brown bruising. Fronds can be a good indicator of freshness, so try to find spritely, dark green or sometimes purplish ones that haven’t started to shrivel or turn color. Bulbs keep best for 3-5 days wrapped in plastic and refrigerated.
Try It Out
Fennel’s sturdy bulbs lend themselves well to a variety of basic techniques, such as sautéing, roasting, braising in a white wine-chicken-broth base, or grilling. For grilling, slice lengthwise, leaving some of the root end and core on, so the pieces remain intact. Try it as part of a medley using our vegetable grilling guide! Or eat it raw by slicing very thinly on the mandoline, and enjoy the refreshing crunch as a salad ingredient. It looks fancy, but you can do this ahead by holding the sliced fennel in cold water, so that it retains its minty green colors and crispness.
Want more? Try these delicious recipes:
Bubba’s Crab Stew
This stew shortcuts your typical seafood “mirepoix” (vegetable base with celery, onion, and fennel—all cooked in butter) by simply putting all the vegetables in the food processor, so you’ll have your meal ready in less than 30 minutes!
John’s Busters and Grits
This guest chef recipe uses a traditional combination of fennel and vermouth with herbs for a mouth-watering crab pan sauce.
Spice-Rubbed Shell Steaks
Our tasty steaks with a garlic and spice dry rub served with sautéed red pepper, fennel, and onion, topped with basil…