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Fennel is one of those ingredients that people either love or hate. It’s kind of like black licorice in that way, which makes sense because the two flavors are often associated. For fennel lovers, one of the best aspects of the bulbous plant is the length of its season, which typically lasts from October through April. For fennel skeptics, the good news is that—when mixed with other ingredients—fennel’s anise-y taste becomes more muted.
Whether spring, winter, or fall, the creative possibilities for cooking fennel are endless—from more classic preparations like fennel salads to unexpected variations like fennel cake. Here, 11 chefs from restaurants across the United States share their favorite ways to cook with fennel:
"I love juicing fennel stalks and using the juice in a bright vinaigrette for raw fish. Then I thinly slice the bulbs and simply dress them in olive oil and lemon.”
“Our favorite way to cook fennel is by braising it with our preserved orange, white wine, and garlic. Served alone or with fish and lighter meats.”
“I really like raw fennel in salads, but I also enjoy it braised in a very aromatic vegetable stock of onions, celery, coriander seed, star anise thyme, and bay leaves with olive oil and sliced lemon paired with a branzino or orata.”
“I love fennel. My favorite interaction is Buffalo Milk Cheese (namely a Burrata or a Buffalo mozzarella) and fresh shaved fennel that I refresh in salt water and dry. Buffalo milk is the sweetest of all milks and incredibly rich. The fennel is hydrating and crunchy and both flavors distill one another incredibly well. Fennel takes well to sweetness in pairings and really embraces the sweet, milky cheese. A touch of olive or almond oil, aged vinegar, and warm crust bread is a beyond delicious complement.”
“I lightly peel the bulbs and shave nice and thin on the mandolin. I season them with salt and cover with EVOO gently bringing up until the fennel is slightly wilted. Once that happens - remove from oil, and finish with capers, preserved lemon zest, parsley, fennel pollen and lemon juice. It is the best accompaniment for a simple salad or a beautiful piece of fish.”
“I love to cook fennel whole and roasted. I prepare them simply with salt, pepper and EVOO. When I go to roast them, I cover with aluminum foil.”
“I actually don't like to cook fennel. When it’s raw, I shave it down to be paper thin with a knife or mandolin. I soak it in ice water so that it curls up, almost looking like curly fries, and use it for fennel salad. The salad I make is the fennel tossed in pure buttermilk with salt, pepper and fresh chives. It’s great on its own but also great for toppings on a sandwich, with fish, and more.”
"I absolutely love a fresh shaved fennel salad; it’s got such a great crunch and anise flavor. Really makes salads special. I’m a big fan of braising my fennel with garlic and finishing with lemon juice and fresh herbs or in the oven with orange juice, allepo and olive oil. It’s extremely versatile and always ends up the star of the table.”
“I roast the fennel and then braise it with herbsaint. I use this as a garnish for our Redfish ‘a la niçoise’ at Couvant. First we take the trimmings and then combine them with the bones to make a fumet. That fumet is cut with tomato water to make a reduction, which is served as the sauce for the dish.”
“I love making fennel ice cream and pairing it with apples. It’s sweet and anise forward and somehow unexpected. As far as just eating fennel, roasting them is a favorite, but I also like to slice the fennel really thin and put a fair amount of olive oil on a sheet tray, so the fennel is about halfway submerged. Throw some parm on the fennel and cook it in the oven until the fennel gets soft and the cheese gets bubbly. It oddly tastes like pepperoni pizza. So delicious.”
“My favorite way to eat fennel is simply grilled over wood or charcoal. Fennel is one of those vegetables that eats so well raw that I dont see it cooked often enough. With the smokey flavors and the char you can achieve with live fire, it brings a whole different element to it. The quick application of heat helps to bring out those licorice notes and it still has that pleasant texture that I always associate with Fennel. They make a great addition to any simple salad as a delicate smokey licorice highlight when they are sliced lengthwise half an inch thick and quickly grilled with some EVOO and salt.”