Fennel & How to Use It

March 27, 2010 44 Comments

Fennel & How to Use It

All About Fennel & How to Cook With It

On the whole, the foods that restaurants deliver to the consumer use basically the same ingredients that a home cook would use.  There is, however, a short list of ingredients that are commonly used in commercial kitchens that are underused by home cooks.

If you ask Anthony Bourdain, one of those ingredients is shallots.  And if you ask me, another of those ingredients is fennel.  Fennel is one of the most underutilized vegetables I can think of, and it also happens to be one of my favorites. You’ll find it in many of my recipes including:

What is Fennel?

Fennel is a plant whose leaves look very much like dill thin, waving frondy filaments of bright green.  Not only are the leaves edible, but so are the seeds, bulbs and even the pollen.  If you have never tried fennel, let me see if I can describe the flavor to you.

Fennel bulb, which looks kind of like a cross between an onion and the base of a bunch of celery, has a sweet, perfumy, anise-like flavor.  Rather than making food taste like licorice, though, fennel imparts a light, bright spring-like quality to foods.  Plus, fennel is good for you.  It contains Vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and calcium.

How Can Fennel Be Used at Home

When raw, the texture of fennel is cold and crisp.  Take advantage of the refreshing crispness by thinly slicing the bulb into salads or slaws.  When caramelized, fennel tastes almost like licorice candy, and it acts as a wonderful flavor base as part of a mire poix, lending dishes an “I can’t quite figure out what that flavor is, but man is it good quality!   Fennel is also very tasty on its own, sautéed or even grilled.

Fennel leaves can be chopped up and used to flavor any number of dishes, either hot or cold, much like you would use any other culinary herb.  Use it in dishes that also feature citrus, or in any dish that reminds you of spring.  Of course, fennel fronds also make a beautiful, feathery garnish for dishes containing fennel.

Fennel seeds are one of the primary spices in Italian sausage, and they are also used frequently in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Fennel pollen is one of those ingredients that is almost exclusively used in fine dining kitchens. (I’m not even sure where you would find it.)  It has a very concentrated, musky-anise aroma and flavor.  A little goes a long way, but if you are a fan of fennel and can get your hands on some, mix some into a cream sauce or use it as part of a dry spice rub.

I really hope I am conveying how wonderful fennel is as an ingredient.  If you already love it, here are some ideas for new ways to enjoy it.  If you’ve not tried it yet, please give it a try.  If you do not like licorice, you might not want fennel to play a starring role on your dinner plate, but do consider using it to build background flavor in a stew or a braise.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Fennel and Jicama Slaw with Citrus Dressing

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

1 medium fennel bulb, sliced very thin (use a mandoline, if you have one)

1 small jicama, julienned

¼ cup chopped basil

2 tablespoons fennel frond

1 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1½ teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Several drops of your favorite hot sauce, to taste

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

How To Prepare At Home

Combine the jicama, fennel, basil, fennel frond and mint in a bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the citrus juices, honey, mustard, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Continue whisking and stream in the oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Toss the dressing with the slaw.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Braised Fennel

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 medium fennel bulbs

1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup homemade or low sodium chicken stock

How To Prepare At Home

Trim fennel bulbs from stalks, reserving some fronds to chop for garnish. Cut bulbs lengthwise into 1/3-1/2? slices. Do not trim root end, so the slices stay together.

Heat a 10-12? sauté pan until hot. Add the oil and wait until the oil shimmers before adding the fennel.

Season with some salt and pepper and sear fennel to caramelize, turning once. The fennel should be a rich golden brown.

Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze.

When the wine has reduced to a syrup, add the chicken stock and put the lid on the pan.

Braise over very low heat for about ten to fifteen minutes, or until the fennel is very tender.

Before serving, garnish with chopped fennel fronds.

Five Spice Powder

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Fennel seed, and the similarly-flavored star anise both play a prominent role in Chinese Five Spice Powder. Add five spice to beef or poultry rub for an Asian flavor.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons black pepper corns

3 star anise pods

2 teaspoons fennel seed

6 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks, approximately 3? long

How To Prepare At Home

Toast all spices in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Spread spices out onto foil or parchment to cool. Don’t leave them in the pan, because they will continue to cook and burn.

Once cool, grind spices in a spice grinder or bladed coffee grinder until it is as fine as you can get it.

Store covered in a cool, dark cabinet. Exposure to light will decrease the shelf life.

Fennel Pollen Cream Sauce for Pasta

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons butter

2 medium shallots, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons fennel pollen (substitute ground fennel seed)

Salt and white pepper, to taste

2 cups half and half

¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

How To Prepare At Home

Heat a wide sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the fat and wait until the butter melts before adding the minced shallots and garlic. Season with a heavy pinch of salt and white pepper. Stir in the fennel pollen.

Sweat shallot and garlic until softened and translucent but not browned.

Whisk in the half and half and bring to a simmer. Do not let come to a full rolling boil, but reduce by ¼.

Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, a bit at a time until it is all melted. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Cook any short pasta (ziti, rigatoni, elbows, shells, etc) or filled pasta (tortellini, ravioli, etc) until done to your liking. Pour hot pasta into the sauce and toss to coat.

Serve with some more grated Parmesan and maybe a sprinkling of chopped fennel frond.

How Are You Using Fennel?

I’m always interested in learning how  home cooks use ingredients so let me know by posting a comment below. Let me and my readers know your favorite ways of using fennel in your recipes. Thanks

Last modified on Wed 16 July 2014 9:11 am

Comments (44)

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  1. Andrea says:

    I roasted it first, then cooled and chopped it in my potato salad..it was a big hit! I love it!

    Great technique Andrea, thanks for sharing. – RG

  2. Maxine says:

    I use a recipe I found on Rouxbe. Sauteed fennel with Parmesan and a little lemon juice….delicious! Thanks for this wonderful information.

    Hi Maxine, You are welcome and I too am a big fan of Rouxbe.com. Thanks for mentioning it. – RG

  3. Mike says:

    I have used fennel pollen in many dishes. The flavor is robust and the smell delightful. I have yet to taste the rest of the plant sadly. However I am working at a company that collects and distributes the pollen as a cooking spice. That’s how I started cooking with it.

    Hi Mike, I hope you can share some of the ways you have been using fennel pollen in your cooking. And please try the rest of the plant some time. I think you will enjoy it. – RG

  4. Linne Bruskewitz says:

    hi I am growing the fennel. how will I know when it’s ready to pick?

    Hi Linne, you can harvest the bulbous stalk when they are about 3 inches in diameter. You don’t pick them like you do carrots but cut the whole stalk just below the point where the individual stalks join. This usually takes 13 to 14 weeks. – RG

  5. mary says:

    I was challenged by two people that are opening an Italian venture, to make them a relish to serve with meat & cheese. I used fennel, as my main ingredient, along with others.

    Sounds good, care to share with us? – RG

  6. Hank says:

    I don’t use shallots or fennel because they are too expensive for what they are. Shallots are over $3 per pound for what a small mild onion.

    The same thing with fennel. By the time you get down to just the bulb which for the most part is what you use, you pay $5-6 per pound. I can buy steak on sale for that.

    Someday, I will see fennel on sale and will pick some up and experiment but I am in no hurry.

    Hi Hank, I think if you look around you should be able to find it at a lower cost. Try your local farmers market if you have one near you. Also, although most recipes call for using just the bulb, the rest of the fennel can be used in stews, stocks and braises. – RG

  7. Susan says:

    I use ground fennel as the main seasoning in crawfish risotto. It’s exceptional!

    Hi Susan, thanks for sharing. – RG

  8. John H says:

    Broil a red pepper, cut into slim strips, add S&P, and balsamic vinegar. Cut fennel bulb lengthwise, thinly and roast (or grill) until browned. Toss w/ peppers and enjoy! *Taken from a side dish I had @ the Beacon restaurant in NYC. Chef- Waldy Malouf

    Sounds good – RG

  9. Betty Cox says:

    I discovered fennel one year when I tried the Joy of Cooking Bouillabaisse Recipe for Christmas Eve at a friends house. It was wonderful. Bought too much and used the remainder in vegetable soup a few days later. Being the frugal cook that I am threw in the fronds after chopping them and wished I had discovered how wonderful they were when making the Bouillabaisse! My next venture was to use fennel in southern cornbread stuffing rather than celery and the fronds instead of sage. Outstanding! Winter is on its way here in Alaska and will be making my vegetable soup tomorrow with fennel!

    Hi Betty, thanks so much for sharing your comments. Your vegetable soup sounds delicious and I will have to make some myself this week. – RG

  10. Mel Romero says:

    I have been given a recipe for fennel that is simple to make, divine to taste and very refreshing.
    Thinly slice one fennel bulb, and cut one orange in to cubes then toss together with a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. A lovely Spring salad.

    Hi Mel, sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing. – RG

  11. Susan says:

    I recently used fennel for the first time in a tomato-based sauce that I served with veal/pork meatballs. I’ll admit that I’m not fond of the smell of raw fennel, but something wonderful happens to it when you start cooking it. The sauce is AMAZING. Better than the typical meat sauce I make.

    Hi Susan, thanks for sharing this experience. I did something similar with my 10 year old daughter. I had her take a small bite of raw onion and you can imagine her reaction and then we caramelized some onion and she thought they tasted like candy. – RG

  12. Steamy Delicious says:

    For Thanksgiving and several times throughout the year I make Cranberry & Anise (Fennel) Compote. I cook my berries from scratch with thinly chopped fennel and add chopped walnut, chopped mandarin orange, cinnamon, ginger and other spices. I love it.

    Sounds delicious! – RG

  13. Pat says:

    I have a recipe that calls for 2 large fennel bulbs. Cannot find it anywhere! I bought fennel seeds. How do I substitute?

    Sorry to say you don’t Pat. The seeds may give it a little fennel flavor but you won’t get the texture and flavor from the seeds as you might the actual bulb. Can’t believe you can’t find fennel bulbs in your local supermarket. Most markets I’ve seen carry it. Good luck. – RG

  14. Dawn Hutchinson says:

    I just bought fennel for the first time, today. I’m trying a low carb diet, so, I wanted to try something different, and expand my list of things that I am allowed to enjoy! I’ll be trying it tonight with pork chops- thank you for the recipes and ideas!

  15. Kenneth Hill says:

    I just heard of fennel. I took a recipe from the TLC (Kitchen Boss) for Stuffed Peppers.The recipe called for fennel. Found it at my local store. Smells great and the peppers were great. Can you use the stalks of the plant and how?

    Hi Kenneth, sure you can use the stalks especially for vegetable stock. You can also remove the fibrous exterior, blanch them and use them in salads or stews. – RG

  16. Tere said says:

    Fennel Tea …fragrant and delicious. Good for your digestion especially when your tummy is upset. I slow boil the whole fennel, except the seeds, strain and enjoy.

  17. Susan says:

    I have a sack of fennell seeds and was wondering what to do with them, as I read, I threw a few into my mouth with a fresh stick of gum. It tastes similar to black jack.

  18. Janice says:

    In the past year I have been trying some new and different produce (for me). The first time I used fennel I roasted it with a little olive oil and some seasoning. I thought it was very good, in fact, I have found that roasting seems to bring out extraordinary flavors in vegetables. Today I made a slaw with fennel, dried apricots, and sliced snow peas. I tasted it right after making it and I thought it tasted very fresh.
    My question is; I only used the bulb and I was wondering if I could freeze the stalks and fronds to use later. Could you give me any information on this?

    Hi Janice, great ideas for using fennel, thanks. You could freeze the stalks and use them for making stock but most recipes I read use the bulb, but I’m sure there are many styles of cooking that use the stalk and fronds. I’ll look for some good ideas on how to use them and invite others to join in on the conversation. – RG

  19. Gina says:

    Here’s how I get my fennel fix: Sopressata salami, fennel seeds and Kraft grated Parmesan. Don’t use “real” parm, it won’t work. Lay out a few slices of salami on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle generously with fennel seeds. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan. Bake a 450 for about 5 minutes, watching carefully. I like to roll them up a little to keep my fingers clean. Intense fennel taste and these crisp up quite a bit as they cool.

    Sound good Gina. I am a huge fan of Sopressata. Why won’t real grated Parmesan work? – RG

  20. Gina says:

    I’m not sure. I used Parmesan from a block and grated it myself. It didn’t crisp up or brown in the oven and the mouth feel was a bit slimy. The pre-grated kind was more “crumby”, crispy and delicious.

    That’s interesting Gina, I will have to experiment with the two. – RG

  21. LG says:

    I used Fennel the very first time a few days ago and I can tell you I am a fan. This is how I used it. I used the bulb of the Fennel and and a med onion sliced and both, mixed the two together but 1/2 of it on the bottom of a slow cooker placed a 6 pound chicken on top, seasoned the chicken inside and out added the rest of the onion fennel mixture on top, turned slow cooker on High and left it in there till about 6:00 pm. I started it at. 8:00am This was the best tasting chicken I have tried in my slow cooker. I hope someone tries it. Enjoy

    I know I will LG. Thanks for sharing. – RG

  22. David Francis says:

    Hi All,
    Hope this is of help. As a singleton,I like to do batch preparation and freezing. Easy to get good veg during busy week. Buy required quantity of fennel,leeks and greens/cabbage. Chop it all,wash well,mix well,place mix into carrier bags and freeze.
    When required,take handfuls of mix and place into kidded pan with large knob of butter,sweat for 10 miins lid on until tender. If wish for stronger fennel taste add some seeds. Trust me It’s gorgeous,easy,cheap and nutritious.

  23. Bill says:

    COOKED, GROUND Fennel SEED Flavor Loss

    I and members of my family have long been fans of fennel. However, I’m wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience with GROUND fennel SEED.
    When adding ground fennel seed to dishes, it has a pungent aroma before cooking. But after cooking it, there is no flavor benefit. It seems to me that ground fennel seed is much like fresh basil, that if cooked too long, or at too high of a temperature, it loses all it’s flavor, and is worthless.
    I’ve purchased ground fennel seed from various suppliers, I’ve ground fennel seed myself, I’ve stored it at room temperature, I’ve stored it in the freezer. The results are the same. (Cooking with whole or slightly crushed fennel seed works well – the flavor stands up).
    RG: Have you had any experience with this? And if so, would there be a similar cooking experience with ground anise or fennel pollen? Neither of which I’ve tried.

  24. nancy says:

    Can I use raw fennel (root stalk and leaves) with other vegetables to make fresh juice?

    Good question. I’m not sure but according to The Juice Nut at http://www.thejuicenut.com/fennel_juice_the_juice_nut.aspx , the entire plant can be used. Check out her site for more tips on juicing fennel. – RG

  25. Sally says:

    I’m going to try it fresh/raw in salad with Napa cabbage, bok choy, green onions and the almond/ramen mix garnished with black sesame seeds. I wish I knew if it would taste good with diced dried apricots. I’ll try some to see. Thanks for the great info!!! And thanks for all of the comments!

  26. Janet says:

    Yes it is expensive, and therefore I do not waste a speck. I use it in my salads, start at the fronds and chopping a little a day arrive at and thru the bulb, so I get several salads out of one. I’m trying out growing some, plan to harvest some fronds as they grow. I have tried some wild fennel fronds and the flavor is stronger, haven’t been able to dig up a bulb.

  27. Sarge says:

    While reading this article, I got a great idea for the use of fennel, which I’m going to try as soon as what we’re growing matures enough to be harvested! A fennel and saffron risotto with either crab meat or shrimp, with a rosemary roasted chicken and a salad my girlfriend introduced me to – spring salad mix with a hot bacon vinaigrette consisting of imperial sugar, table salt, apple cider vinaigrette, and of course chopped bacon.

    Unfortunately, I left the restaurant industry late last year to pursue a career in the oilfield, but I still get on RG every time I have an internet connection, and take every chance I can to pay around in a kitchen! (if only safety regulations would allow to do that while on the job…the food out in the Gulf leaves much to be desired)

  28. Brenda Isackson says:

    Hi all I love fennel and 2 of my and my families favorite dishes are Porketta And Fennel Pasta, First one is real easy, You take a rolled pork roast make a paste of garlic butter and fennel seed spread all over your pork and cook it like any other roast Its heavenly. Second is1 pound spicy Italian sausage, Medium Onion wedged, medium Fennel bulb wedged, 1 red and 1 yellow bell peppers sliced, brown all this together till the sausage is cooked and the veggies are crisp but cooked, add 1 can crushed tomatoes, have over fettucinni, This my husband will even eat. there arent too many men that like fennel, and if you dont like the raw fennel in the second recipe you can use the seed instead. Yummy!

  29. Kate says:

    Hi–found this website when looking for a substitute for fennel pollen. For a long time I’ve put ground (in a coffee grinder used for just spices) fennel seeds in my meatloaf mixture before baking it. I can taste the difference and when I forget and leave it out, I miss that taste.

  30. Mark Whelan says:

    Thanks for the heads up on what I can do with fennel.
    We started with one small plant in the back yard but with care compost and the southern Brazillian climate it has now at least 30 hearts (OK now I know they are called bulbs).
    I now know how to start reducing the numbers and increasing my cullinary delights.
    The only way I can see for Pat (June 19th, 2011 at 6:10 pm ) to use the seeds when she needs bulbs is to plant them and wait.

  31. Mistie says:

    I just received a fennel bulb complete with stalks and fronds from a friend who didn’t know what to do with it (me either) and was wondering what I could do with it… can the bulb be frozen?? It’s close to perishing and I don’t want it to go to waste. I’ve never cooked with fresh fennel but I love to try anything new.

  32. Suki says:

    I was listening to Dr. Oz a few days ago and he mentioned fennel seed is good for gas! So I was in a Orinetal Market and saw ground fennel and bought some to try. I added some to homemade salsa, it was a nice addition. Looking forward to using it, especially in the braising of it as mentioned above in olive oil for recipes. Came here for some ideas and appreciate the many responses.

  33. Inez Reid says:

    i grew a big patch of the plant &did not know how to use it except for salad and neither did my friends. Thank u i will be trying some of your recipe

  34. T says:

    this site was very insightful. It was great to see input from others aswell.My family adds a piece of fennel in a hot cup of water along with a squeeze of lemon,a couple mint leaves and a dab of honey..we find this most useful when dealing with cold and flu symptoms,tummy aches,or just something warm for the kids to sip as an alternative to hot chocolate!

  35. Debbie says:

    What a great little website and ever so helpful! I too am a home gourmet and I love experimenting and trying new things. I have used fennel before, but only limited, and I didn’t quite know how I could expand my use and enjoyment. I believe I have all of those issues answered! Thank you!

  36. Susie Pedersen says:

    Wonderful article and recipes thank you! we are growing fennel and have several and looking for ways to serve them. Today I am making a roast beef in a crock pot carrots onions shallots garlic and our home grown turnips and I was wondering if I could add fennel– what do you think? I usually saute it in evo with with garlic shallots onion & celery and then top it with some kind of fish and steam it with a tad of wine it’s delicious! Thank you!

  37. Cajun Queen says:

    I loved the subtle, but intriguing flavor of the fennel in the wine and chicken stock sauce. I added some white fish to the stock and let it simmer with the fennel for a while. Delicious! Thanks for the recipie; I could find no recipies after checking in 6 or 7 major cookbooks. This was the first time cooking fennel in my life. So easy.

  38. Gayle DeGregori says:

    Next to the leeks in the produce section was the fennel …I bought both and decided to make a fish chowder because we had some cold tilapia from the day before, leftover. Sauteed some onion, chopped up the leek & fennel, added some tiny new potatoes and boiling water, simmered that for a while, then added a thick, cooked “white sauce” (butter, flour and milk), stirred in the broken pieces of tilapia, seasoned to taste with salt & pepper. It was simply delicious! I had never used fennel before.

  39. Katherine Rollins says:

    Fennel can be used with celery and carrots in Vietnamese Salad. First, make a peanut sauce, using 1/2 c. peanut butter, 1/2 c. water, 1 T. soy sauce. Slice all three vegetables into matchsticks. Place in three bowls, or mix together. Soften rice paper circles for 45 seconds, two at a time, in pie pan of cold water. Remove one circle to a plate and spread it out. Place about twelve sticks of vegetables on one edge of the circle. Roll up like a burrito or egg roll. Place rolls, not touching, on a plate, and cover with a wet cloth until all rolls are done. Serve immediately, with peanut sauce. Sometimes other vegetables or shrimp are added to this, rolled into the circle.

  40. DC says:

    Try grating some fennel (just to your own taste a little or a lot), add chopped onion, chopped garlic, saute/carmalize in a little olive oil…add it to a macaroni salad, potato salad, or crushed tomatoes for a pasta sauce….(so many more uses just for that small mix up)

  41. Bonnie says:

    The cheapest fennel I have found is at Trader Joes. The fronds have been trimmed so it fits into the plastic container.

    I make a purée w the whole bulb and some fennel seeds which I toast in a dry pan first. Then I spread the purée on puff pastry squares or rounds, you can cut the dough however you want. Then I top it with a thin slice of smoked salmon and decorate w a small frond, maybe capers, or caviar if you want to be really fancy. This recipe is from the book Simple to Spectacular, by Mark Bittman & John-George Vongerichten

  42. Fennelhead says:

    Two ways,
    Shredded as a slaw with a sweet and bitter dressing – oil, orange or grapefruit juice, marmalade, dries orange peel, ginger, salt, fennel fronds
    When I’m tired of leftovers, I strifry with garlic, butter, bring to a boil so the dressing gets a little thick and sticky, then add cooked bacon bits

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