Down & Dirty

Fennel

By • March 8, 2013 • 13 Comments

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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
 
This week we’ve got fronds on the brain. We’ll go over what to look for when selecting fennel, how to store it, and how to use every part of the plant from (1)bulb to (2)stalk to (3)fronds -- and more! Licorice haters fear not, there might be hope for you and fennel yet.
 
 
What to Look For
First things first: select small to medium-sized white bulbs that are heavy and firm with bright green feathery fronds. Avoid bulbs that are really large, have moist spots, or appear shriveled and dried out. Bulbs and stalks should be free of cracks, splits, and any discoloration or bruising.
 
The fennel you buy at the market is also known as bulb fennel, Florence fennel, or finocchio, though due to its similar flavor, it sometimes gets confused with anise. Fact: anise is an entirely different plant, but the two do come together to flavor absinthe. (Think about that the next time you sip one of these.) 
 
 
How to Store Fennel
Similar to carrots, if you’re storing fennel in the fridge, you’ll want to separate the stalks from the bulb and store the two parts separately in plastic bags. For a non-plastic option, try storing fennel upright in a cup of water on the counter. Either way, try to use your fennel within a few days -- any more than that, and it starts to lose flavor.
 
 
Root-to-Stem Dining
Like celery, the entire plant can be consumed -- here's how to make the most of every last bit.
 
Bulb 
If you’re still craving comfort foods, try fennel on a flatbread, paired with celery in a gratin, or with braised potatoes. Spring can’t come fast enough? Then use your fennel bulb in a greek salad or a shaved salad with celery. If you're not a fan of licorice, ease yourself into fennel's charms by roasting it. Pair it with couscous, or blend it into this white bean dip; roasting fennel will bring out its sweetness and soften its flavor.

Stalks
According to The Barbeque! Bible, you can dry fennel stalks in the oven to preserve them. Just remove all fronds, and arrange the stalks in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake them at 200°F for 3 hours, then turn off the heat and let them hang out in the oven overnight to finish drying. Mark Bittman suggests grilling fish on the stalks (keep the fronds attached for this one, or use your just-dried stalks), and they can also be used to make broths, infused oils, or in place of celery in dishes.
 
 
Fronds
Chop up the fronds and use them like you would other fresh herbs. They're lovely in a pesto, an egg or potato salad, or as a garnish, like on this soup.
 
Seeds
You’re probably familiar with seeing fennel seeds in sausages and stews (those “seeds” are actually fruits, but everyone refers to them as seeds). Aside from using them in crackers or a genius cabbage recipe, their subtle licorice flavor and nuttiness can even serve as a zippy breath freshener!
 
Pollen
It may be a little more elusive, but fennel pollen has some diehard fans. It's been said that “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.” Sold yet? The pollen can be sprinkled on meat and fish, paired with mushrooms, or even with ice cream. Look for it in specialty stores or online, or if you have fennel in your garden, you can let it go to seed and collect your own: be patient, forgo harvesting the bulbs, and you'll be rewarded with sunny yellow pollen-filled flowers. If you want to be truly wild, go foraging.

There are so many more ways you can use fennel and all of its parts. What's your favorite way to eat it?

Jump to Comments (13)

Tags: down and dirty, diagrams, infographics, fennel, fennel stalks, fennel fronds, fennel pollen, lindsay-jean hard, special diets

Comments (13)

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Lbfire

over 1 year ago LB (Laurie Beth)

I have harvested pollen from fennel three seasons now in Virginia..each one tasting a bit different. Have yet to see in a food shop. Most special.

Pict1821

over 1 year ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I'm determined to add fennel to our garden this year just to harvest the pollen!

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over 1 year ago lifeofcolors

I love fennel, ever since I first got the courage up to try it many years ago! :-)

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over 1 year ago toddnyc

Thanks for the reminder! One night I whipped up for a last-minute dinner party Braised Fennel in a Vermouth-Molasses Broth. Luckily I wrote it down while tossing this and that into the pan. You jogged my memory, and taste buds!

Pict1821

over 1 year ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

Wow, that sounds fantastic!

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over 1 year ago Diana Pappas

The other day I made Marcella Hazan's whole fish with finocchio and it was sublime. Made in one large skillet on the stovetop, the fennel mellows out and gets caramelized, the fish (branzino in our case) cooks up moist and perfect. Caramelized fennel is impossible to stop eating, though I confess I love fennel in all its forms, so I'm biased.

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over 1 year ago susanm

Good post. I have been single-handedly trying to make fennel a go-to veg for all the cooks I know. I talk about it endlessly. To the point that recently a friend did an eye roll when I described the shaved fennel salad I had made the night before. Growing up, my grandmother served shaved fennel & sliced oranges, topped with cracked black pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil. Divine! I serve it often to guests and they are confused, but usually enjoy it.

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over 1 year ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

perfect timing on this post. have two in the fridge now!

Pict1821

over 1 year ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

Hurray! Please share what all you do with them!

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over 1 year ago Panfusine

stalks of Fresh green immature fennel seed are an interesting snack sold by street vendors in Mumbai. AS kids we used to walk home nibbling away on them!
Wonder if the Union square market sells them in season like they sell bunches of green dill & coriander

Pict1821

over 1 year ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

How fun, thanks for sharing!

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over 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Fennel seed breath mints?! You just blew my mind.

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over 1 year ago Panfusine

They have them in a bowl near the doorway of almost every Indian restaurant.. Its not just a breath freshener, its also considered a digestive.