This Easy, Make-Ahead Dish Delivers Fen-tastic Flavor
Every January, I’m eager to eat my vegetables. After an extended holiday blowout — which always seems to begin around Halloween and continue through New Year’s Day — I’m ready to seek out food that’s lighter and healthier. Time to cut down on the sweets, and begin eating cleaner.
Fennel fits the bill wonderfully: It’s nutritious and low in calories, but it also offers flavor that won’t quit. It’s often served raw in salads. When cooked, though, it turns into another veggie entirely. In fact, the flavor mellows and becomes almost sweet.
As noted last week in our post on Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans, fennel can be the star of the show. But it also makes an excellent side dish. Braised fennel is a perfect accompaniment to roast pork or poultry, and it pairs well with almost any fish you can imagine. And although it’s terrific hot from the oven, it’s just as good — maybe even better! — when served at room temperature. So it’s a perfect make-ahead dish for a big dinner.
Everyone at your table (kids included) will lap this up. Don’t you love January?
Recipe: Braised Fennel
You can cook fennel the same way you’d prepare any vegetable (including steaming or sautéing), but I think it’s particularly succulent when braised. Braise it on top of the stove if you want, though I prefer to use the oven. I just set the timer and forget about it as the oven heat does it stuff.
To braise fennel, place it in a container with a bit of liquid and tightly cover it. The simmering liquid and steam will cook and flavor the fennel until it becomes meltingly tender. If you use a gratin pan or baking dish (as I do in this recipe), you can cover it with aluminum foil.
Most recipes for braising fennel are more or less the same, but I particularly like the one in Molly Stevens’ All About Braising, and my recipe is adapted from hers. She has some twists that I particularly like. She begins by browning the fennel, so it has good color. (If you don’t want to bother with this, you can run the fennel under the broiler for a couple of minutes after it’s cooked.) She also adds some extra flavoring ingredients, including anchovies.
Many people don’t like anchovies (or think they don't), but no need to worry: You won’t taste the anchovy in the finished dish (and you’ll barely notice its flavor in the braising liquid, if you taste it at all). Anchovy, by the way, is a great “secret ingredient.” It adds tremendous background flavor, but when used correctly, you’ll never notice it’s there. It’s like salt — if you taste it, you’ve used too much. But if you’re worried that you might not like the dish with anchovies, just skip them; the fennel will still be mighty tasty.
This recipe serves 4 to 6 (as a side dish), and it’s quite easy to scale up (or down) if desired. Active prep time is about 15 minutes, braising time an hour to hour and a quarter.
Well-wrapped leftovers will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. They’re good cold (warm them to room temperature first) or you can heat them in the microwave or oven.
- ~2 pounds of trimmed fennel bulbs, plus green tops for garnish (about 3 medium; discard stalk or save for stock)
- 1 tablespoon pure olive oil (the cheap stuff)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds (optional; see Notes for substitution)
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)
- 2 - 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced fine
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 or 4 fillets of anchovies, drained (optional; see Note above if the idea of anchovies turns you off)
- ½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- ½ cup chicken or vegetable stock
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Rinse off the fennel and remove the stalks and green tops. Set aside the green fuzzy fronds for garnish (optional). Discard stalks or save for making stock. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, slice off the root end of the bulbs. Cut or peel off the outer part of the bulbs if they’re tough. Cut fennel bulbs in half through the poles (lengthwise), then cut in half again so that each bulb is quartered. (If your bulbs are particularly large, you can cut them into sixths.)
- Place large frying pan on medium-high heat. When warm, add the oil. Let the oil get hot (it’ll shimmer — this will take just a few seconds) and immediately add the fennel quarters, placing them flat side down. Reduce heat to medium. Brown fennel for 3 minutes (don’t shake or disturb while browning).
- At the three-minute mark, lift the edge of 1 or 2 fennel quarters to see how they’re browning (use a spatula or tongs). They’ll be speckled, not evenly brown. Brown for another minute if need be.
- When browned on one side, turn the fennel over and brown for another three minutes. At the end of that time, place the fennel in a gratin pan or baking dish. (You want to use one that’s just large enough to hold the fennel quarters in one layer without spaces between them; it’s OK to squish the pieces together). Lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, if you wish (this is an optional step), place the fennel and coriander seeds in a microwave-safe dish (like a pie plate) and nuke them for about a minute, or until the spices begin to smell fragrant.
- Cool the spices slightly, then crush with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon.
- Add the crushed fennel and coriander seeds to a small saucepan. Peel and mince garlic, and add that.
- Add the dried thyme and the optional drained anchovies (if using) to the saucepan. With a spoon, crush the mix of anchovies, thyme, garlic, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds against the bottom of the pan (make a bit of a paste). Add the wine or vermouth, bring to a boil, and reduce by half (2 or 3 minutes).
- Add the chicken or vegetable stock to the sauce pan and bring to a boil.
- Pour the stock mixture over the fennel quarters in the gratin or baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and place on the middle rack of the oven. Set timer for 50 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, test the fennel for doneness (slide a paring knife into the core of a fennel quarter — you should feel no resistance). If the fennel needs to cook a bit longer (it probably will), continue braising. Check every 5 minutes until the fennel is done (this usually takes no more than an additional 15 or so minutes).
- Remove the fennel from the oven and serve at once, or let cool and serve at room temperature. You can make this dish a day ahead if you wish. In which case, refrigerate overnight. Then, if serving at room temperature, remove it from the fridge an hour before serving. If serving hot, warm it in a 350-degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or so (or you can use the microwave).
- Right before serving, roughly chop some of the reserved green fennel frond, and use for garnish (optional).
- Stevens adds half a cup of olives to her recipe (she sprinkles them on top of the fennel quarters in Step 5). Olives (or capers) combine wonderfully with fennel, and are definitely worth trying. But I like this dish better without them.
- You don’t have to brown the fennel if you don’t want (Steps 3 & 4). Instead, you can just oil the baking dish, put the fennel in it, season, and proceed with the recipe. The fennel won’t color as much when braising, but if you want to add more color after it’s done, you can just run it under the broiler for a few minutes.
- If you don’t have fennel seed on hand, you can substitute a couple of teaspoons of Pernod or another anise-flavored liqueur. Add it to the wine mixture when you add the stock in Step 10.
- BTW, browning fennel and coriander seed in the microwave is a quick and easy way of toasting them. You could also do this in a dry skillet on the stove top. Why toast your spices? Because it releases some of the flavor and aroma, making them more effective as flavorings.
- This dish is fantastic with Roast Pork. Or pork prepared any way. For a particularly innovative recipe, check out John’s post from the blog, From the Bartolini Kitchens where he makes Porchetta stuffed with fennel fronds.
- This dish also pairs well with poultry and with most fish and shellfish.
- BTW, the braising liquid from the fennel makes a nice little sauce on pork and poultry.
- If you elect to serve this dish at room temperature, it makes an excellent first course. Or you can include it on an antipasto platter (in that case, I would include the olives when making this).
- In Italy, fennel is often served raw (usually just sprinkled with salt or a light dressing).
“More, please.” Mrs. Kitchen Riffs nodded at the fennel, nudging her plate across the table.
“Good stuff, isn’t it?” I said, dishing up another serving.
“Awesome,” she replied. “We really need to eat more of this.”
“We do,” I agreed. "It’s weird the habits we get into — some foods we eat often, others rarely or never.”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “Like sweet potatoes. We used to eat them only at Thanksgiving, now we’re eating them all the time.”
“Or Belgian endive,” I said. “We only ate it in restaurants until I finally decided to cook it at home last year.”
I dished up another helping for myself. “Every January and February, I like to pick a veggie we rarely use, and learn new recipes that feature it.”
“So this year’s mystery veggie is fennel?” asked Mrs K R.
“You guessed it! Last week we did that terrific Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans. And now this wonderful braised fennel dish. I’ve got another recipe or two that we’ll feature in a few weeks.”
“A few weeks? I can’t wait that long!” complained Mrs K R.
I nodded at the fennel dish. “There’s always thirds.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans
Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn
Roast Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes in Curry Sauce
Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans
Roast Belgian Endive
Braised Belgian Endive
Roast Brussels Sprouts
Eating Your Vegetables
Fennel is a fairly recent love for me, only in the last few years did I come to appreciate it like I do now. I add it to almost anything savory and it is wonderful caramelized with sweet onion. We haven't had it braised like this, but I'm thinkin' that is in our near future. :)
I have yet to try fennel this way but it looks absolutely incredible in this dish :D
Definitely want to do this soon :)
Choc Chip Uru
As I've never had it braised like this before, I'm very curious about it. Can't wait to try it...love the caramelized look on top =)
That is a great way to cook and serve Fennel that I have yet to try but will be!
My husband is not really a vegetable lover though I am. He does however love anchovies. You think this might work?! Looks like a go to me.
Interesting recipe - Not a huge fennel fan but your braised version does look tempting - May have to give it a go :-)
I love all those flavours in there and would probably add just a touch of the anchovies so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the fennel. I still love them raw though they actually taste quite different raw.
It's good you're eating your greens. I feel like eating more vegetables after all that Christmas over-indulging too. I love fennel and braised fennel is such a lovely side-dish. And isn't it amazing how different fennel tastes from fresh to braised - you don't get that contrast with carrots. Lovely looking dish! xx
What a wonderful dish both in looks and taste! Love your use of both fennel and coriander seeds . . . 'anchovies you can't taste' became a beloved friend long ago :) ! Actually have only appreciated the vegetable for a matter of years too: don't like aniseedy flavours and thought this would not please: how wrong can one be? And braised I like best!!
Hi Judy, fennel and onion is a great combo. When caramelized, fennel turns into another vegetable, IMO. You'll probably like it braised. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Uru, this is a great way to eat fennel. Although is there a bad way? ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Squishy Monster, it's a tasty veggie, and I, too, really like the caramelized top! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Alyssa, you'll probably really enjoy it once you try it this way - I certainly do! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, just tell him you're serving anchovies with some fennel mixed in as an accent. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi CJ, fennel becomes a whole different veggie when cooked - it sweetens and mellows nicely. Worth trying sometime. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Suzanne, you really don't notice the anchovies in the fennel, although you do in the poaching liquid (a bit - not much). And you're right that they taste so different when raw. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, fennel really does change character completely when cooked! And it's a great veggie for those of us "enjoying" the cold weather. Lucky you, it's summer so you have all the greens you want! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eha, it really doesn't taste all that much like anise once cooked - it really mellows. And using a bit of anchovy in things really is an eyeopener, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Again with the fantastic fennel! Now I really need to go out and grab myself one or two to make this. I've become oddly obsessed with brussel sprouts lately, and your photos remind me of it. Thanks!
Hi Ala, fennel really is good stuff. As are Brussels sprouts - it you haven't tried those roasted, you definitely should. Thanks for the comment.
This looks like a perfect hearty winter dish. Thanks for sharing John!
Hi Yudith, braised fennel certainly is on the hearty side, that's for sure! And such a good dish. Thanks for the comment.
I have never eaten fennel, but yours looks delicious. I am with you when January rolls around I am looking for a healthier way of eating.
Interesting dish, John! I love fennel, but as you mentioned it in your notes, I prefer it raw, with a little olive oil and good quality sea salt. However, I would definitely try your creation, anchovies and capers sound as delicious components. The only thing I need is... fennel! Why it is so hard to buy it around here? I was in a store another day and asked produce manager about fennel. Can you guess what he told me? "We can special order fennel for you, but you have to buy a whole case (about 50 lb)". I am having fennel seeds instead... :)
I have to demystify what fennel is. I haven't had one yet, although it has always been in my to try list. Gotta change that soon.
Have a great week ahead!
Hi Dawn, fennel is really worth checking out - it's got great flavor. And yeah, after all the rich food in December I definitely have to eat healthier! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Marina, raw fennel is great but you owe it to yourself to try it cooked sometime. Just like with tomatoes - they're great raw, but change into something else when cooked into a sauce. Sorry you can't easily buy fennel where you live! That's such a bummer. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Malou, it has a really nice flavor. Try it raw first; then try it cooked. When cooked, its flavor becomes much softer and less assertive. Thanks for the comment.
Thanks John, I will definitely try this dish, I am all intrigued... as soon as I find some fennel. I cook with fennel too when it's available. But because it is so hard to come by here, when I have it I make salad and just indulge with closed eyes, really... :) Have a great week!
I cooked a pork loin roast tonight and this would have made an excellent side dish! I love the way you brown the fennel before braising it, adding even more flavor to the dish. This dish looks so very delicious and is definitely something I need to make (because I LOVE fennel!). thanks for another great recipe!
Hi MJ, browning the fennel before braising really does add a lot to the dish, IMO. Since you like fennel you'll absolutely love this! Thanks for the comment.
So this was a nice surprise. Even a fennel lover never tried braising it like this. I love anchovies too, so I put this also in the list of my fennel recipe collection. ;)
I wish I could get the hubby to eat fennel. I'll have to save this for when he goes out of town...adding the anchovies must give a magnificent depth of flavor!
Wow! I love fennel but I've never tried serving it like this. Now I know what to add to my dinner party this weekend. Thank you for sharing with me! I hope you have a good start to your week. Stay happy and warm!
Hi Nami, I try to braise or roast every veggie I know! This was a particularly successful experiment. I really love Molly Stevens' anchovy idea - it really works. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lizzy, the anchovies are terrific! Too bad hubby won't eat this, but that way there will be more for you. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Monet, most of us braise meat a lot, but veggies not so much. Which is too bad, because with the right veggie you get magic. This is one of those magical recipes. ;-) Thanks for your comment.
This looks and sounds fantastic. I braised fennel once, but this recipe looks far better than the one I used. Thanks for the new addition. Can't wait to try it!
Hi Kate, this is really tasty. Browning the fennel helps, and the anchovies are a flavorful addition, too. Thanks for the comment.
Braising is such a great method for fennel. Turns them so creamy and intensifies its anise flavor.
So healthy and delicious! I am trying to cook with fennel more often and I've never thought of braising it. Thanks!
Hi Carolyn, one of the great things about braising is they turn almost everything creamy, lush, and tender. And you're right that fennel is so good when braised. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalie, fennel is great because there are so many different ways to use it. But braising is one of my faves. Thanks for your comment.
I always forget to cook fennel probably because my family claims they don't like anise flavor. However this recipe looks especially delicious. I love the addition of anchovies. I use it occasionally as well and don't tell my family who again claims they don't like that either. I can't wait to try this and will check out the cookbook on braising. Nice recipe!
This is one tasty way of preparing fennel, John! Love the addition of anchovies. Now I wish I'd bought that bulb of fennel when I was at the market last. I will, though, and I've even got some white anchovies looking for someplace to go. I can think of no place better. Thanks for sharing a great recipe, one that I'm excited to try.
Thank you, too, for your kind mention of my blog. :)
This looks soo yummy. I've actually never tried cooking with fennel before but thanks for the inspiration!
I love your idea of trying new vegetables! We should do the same. It is so easy to get stuck eating the same foods every week. Good for you! And the fennel looks incredible, I just want to grab a piece from my computer screen!
Hi Vicki, Molly Stevens is an excellent cookbook author - you'll like her. Sorry to hear your family gives you grief when you try to expand their taste horizons. Just feed it to them anyway, I say, and if they don't like it - well, you'll eat well. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, happy to mention your blog - it has so much good stuff, and I really like that pork recipe. And you'll like this one! The anchovies are a nice touch, IMO. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Christine, fennel is definitely worth getting acquainted with. It's got such a fresh flavor, and you can use it in so many different recipes. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, it's amazingly easy to get in a food rut! So I always try to be aware of that, and look for new things. Fennel has such terrific flavor that it's going to become a regular! Thanks for the comment.
Yum this looks beautiful and sounds delicious!
Hi Jessica, it is delicious, it is! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
What a fabulous recipe! Your braised fennel must be extrenmely flavoful and scrumptious. I love the spices you've used as well as the fact that you've added anchovies to that wonderful dish.
Love fennel! Raw or braised. Like that your browned it first - it does add flavor. Discovering other vegetables is maybe one of the few joys of January, Certainly it cannot be the below zero weather. Is there a way to follow you via google reader?
This looks great! I have actually never tried fennel, but I think I need to now. Thank you for the reminder of cutting back on the sweets, I am still eating through our christmas chocolates instead of getting some vegetables in me.
I really enjoy fennel and your braised dish sounds great with all the seasonings. Love the tip above the microwave for toasting the seeds!
It has been ages since I had braised fennel last! I remember it beeing nice mellow, I kind of liked it and I was a kid at that time (that means something). Yet I never thought of it as a "Secrete ingredient". How much I wished to give the veggie a chance right now.
Hi Rosa, this really is good stuff. The anchovies really are a nice touch. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Claudia, there is a RSS feed available through Atom - near the top of the right column, under "subscribe" I know this used to work with Google Reader, but Google has been making changes lately (I believe they're trying to migrate everyone to Google+) so I don't know if it still works. And I agree that browning the fennel really does add flavor. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Cathleen, it sounds like heresy, but shortly after New Year's we tend to throw out a lot of our junky food! If it's around we'll eat it, and we've already had enough. ;-) Fennel is a wonderful veggie - I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Karen, it was never that much work to toast spices on the stove top, but the microwave makes it even easier! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Helene, it's good stuff, as you know. Hope you get to have some soon! Thanks for the comment.
My food blowout is the same like yours -- from halloween until New Years day. With the roasted pork and that beautiful braised fennel, that for sure is a very flavorful and hearty meal for me.
Hi Ray, that food blowout is a lot of fun at the time, but I always pay for it! Thanks for the comment.
I definitely love the new flavor profile that fennel takes on when it is heated. This sounds like a wonderful side that lets the fennel shine to its full potential =)
Hi Peggy, this is definitely something worth trying, IMO. Such good stuff - I think you'd like it. Thanks for the comment.
Oh John...can you believe that I never cooked fennel? After reading your post, I feel that I've been missing something really good. I must look for it.
Thanks for the post and educating me about fennel.
Have a great week!
Hi Juliana, I'll bet I know what you're cooking in the next week or two. ;-) Fennel has great flavor - I think you'll really like it. Thanks for the comment.
LOVE this recipe, John! As in your conversation with Mrs. KR...fennel is one of those things I've only had prepared in a restaurant. I love it...so I think it's time I give it a whirl at home. And I'm okay with the anchovies. In cooking it does what cardamom does for me in baking. When people don't realize it's added...they love the flavor...but can't put their finger on why! And I'll definitely brown the fennel first. Such a beautiful dish!
Hi Anne, aren't anchovies a great flavor booster? And the cardamon comparison is really good! (I love cardamon - great spice.) You'll enjoy braising fennel, it has such a nice flavor (and browning it really makes it prettier too, IMO). Thanks for the comment.
i have used fennel seeds in my cooking and baking and the fragrance is truly intoxicating. i wasn't aware of fennel bulbs...i will look into it here but i am sure i would like it just as much as fennel seeds, if not more ;)
Wow, this braised fennel recipe is a winner! I would definitely try this with roast chicken next time. Fennel seeds are a part of Indian cooking, so I have it always. Fennel leaves, however, is an exotic veggie in India. But I loved the recipe, so I will try it. Anchovies do add a wonderful flavour and I am not going to omit adding these. How wonderful! :)
Hi cakewhiz, the bulb has a less intense flavor than the seeds, and when cooked mellows out a bit. Quite a pleasant and refreshing taste! I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Purabi, this really is a nice recipe, and IMO the anchovies are a must. This goes quite well with roast chicken. There's a wild fennel where the leaves are the main part used. In the domesticated fennel, the leaves aren't nearly as profuse, and the bulb is (I believe) bigger. The leaves of the domestic fennel also have a slightly different taste. Thanks for the comment.
I haven't eaten enough fennel in my lifetime. I am going to plant some this winter and will be looking forward to trying this recipe.
Looks really yummy John.
Hi Lizzie, I've never tried to grow my own - that would be a lot of fun, I think. It's a fun veggie - I hope you'll like it. Thanks for the comment.
Definitely giving this a shot :) I think I mentioned on your last post that I'm new to fennel but I love simple but delicious sides like this.
Hi Food Jaunts, this is truly tasty stuff - I hope you enjoy! Thanks for the comment.
John I love this. So many folks don't appreciate fennel but I love it. I dig that you braised it.
Hi Kim, isn't it great stuff? I love it any way, but it's particularly nice when braised. Thanks for the comment.
Hello John! This recipe looks absolutely delicious. I love fennel, and often just roast it with other vegetables, but this braising process looks like it produces a deliciously soft and tender result! Thanks for sharing your recipe.
Hi Laura, roast fennel is quite nice too. Heck, any kind of fennel is worth eating! Thanks for the comment.
I just discovered your blog and it looks great. It's cool to find another male food blogger out there in a world filled with women bloggers. Great job! I love fennel and this looks like a great way to eat it. I'll be trying this one.
Hi Bill, glad to meet you! This dish is wonderful IMO - well worth trying! Thanks for the comment.
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