fennel without fear

How confident would you feel if you went to the grocery store, looked up and down the produce aisle, and knew how to cook everything there?
Fennel was an unknown for me until about 5 years ago. The plants kinda look like cozymonsters and are confusing if you aren’t sure about them since you have bulbs, stalks, and fronds. The flavor is a sweet version of anise, sorta like licorice. Fennel goes great in stocks and soups, and turns out great when it’s roasted and slightly caramelized.

Here’s a dish that we put together recently utilizing the whole thing.

Seared scallops with grilled fennel and citrus/butter/fennel sauce.

We’ve already talked about brining shellfish for 10 minutes in a 3% salt solution (remember weight in ice/water/liquid x 0.03 = salt weight). Seared on high heat in a stainless (not nonstick) pan with 50/50 unsalted butter and neutral oil, continuously basting. Even though I mention this first, it’s the last thing I did.
I separated the bulbs from the stalks, quartered them, and grilled to light char.

Problem: they cooked on such high heat that they were still too hard to eat. The solution? Steam. In my case, I transferred them to a bowl with water, covered with foil, and let that boil until they were fork tender. And yes, right on the grill.

For the sauce, it’s still kind of a work in progress. I separated fronds from stalks, and diced the stalks.

Under about an inch of water, I pressure cooked them for about 15 minutes (I’m going to have a lot more pressure cooker experiments coming soon). This effectively made fennel stock which I reduced and flavored with lemon juice, salt, pepper, finishing with xantham gum and a little butter to make an emulsion. This would have been a lot more fennelly(?) if I’d used the bulbs I guess. The fronds of course don’t taste like much but I used them for garnish. Because they look interesting.

The point to get across is that fennel is a nice veggie that you really should try if you haven’t. Here are some other ways to use it:

1. Stock, we talked about. Add the stalks and/or diced bulbs to any stock.
2. Shaved raw with lemon vinaigrette and pepper for salad. It has some crunch and brings a different texture. This is one of my favorite preparations.
3. Roasted with butternut squash and pureed with stock or water to make soup.
4. Sauteed and part of a basic tomato sauce. It adds a subtle sweetness to the sauce and can enhance your tomato quality.
5. Roasted or pickled with olives and orange zest/juice. This has become a new favorite.
6. Roasted and ground fennel seeds as either garnish or spice.
7. If you eat Indian food a lot of the restaurants have fennel seeds in a bowl with little candies as a digestive.
8. Roasted and served with sausage either in pasta or as a pizza topping.

Any other fennel ideas out there?

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