I serve fennel all the time, but I've never eaten it at anyone else's house. Americans have embraced so many foods over the past twenty years - kiwis, mangos, arugula, capers - but we're still feh on fennel.
What's wrong with you people? The seeds, fronds, and bulb are all delicious; it's easy to prepare and keeps for weeks; fennel's even healthy.
Why all the love for, say, cilantro/coriander, while fennel/anise is an afterthought? As with so many things, I have a theory.
Remember in the 90s when cilantro started to become a part of mainstream American cooking? More than one person told me, "I have that gene that makes cilantro taste like soap." Umm, okay...
Nobody says that anymore. Chipotle runs out of that cilantro-lime rice every single night. Cilantro's in everything now, and we don't even notice it. Why?
Because it's $1 a bunch! You throw it in your cart, chop it up, and forget about it. It's healthy, flavorful, and cheap.
How much is fennel? Let's say, $1.50 a pound. But your typical fennel bulb is three pounds, and you're going to throw a third of that away once you pare off the stalks and fronds. Which is just bad marketing! Nobody would buy an ear of corn by weight, so why would we pay extra for something that's headed straight for the trash? If fennel were sold by the piece, rather than buy the pound, I bet it would sell a lot faster. At least Trader Joe's seems to have figured that out.
Or possibly people are turned off because anise sounds like anus. That's another theory.
Anyway, I love fennel. Seeds, fronds, bulbs - all of it. I don't know where I got this bag of green fennel seeds for $2.19, but they are fantastic. Fennel seeds have that licorice-y flavor of Italian sausage. Sometimes they are dry and fibrous, but these were tender enough to eat unground, so I used some as garnish. I would not recommend running them through your regular coffee grinder, though. Use one of the eleventy Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons you got in the mail this month to buy a cheap grinder just for spices.
And this fennel is gorgeous.
So, I'm doing my part here to popularize this neglected plant.
2 lbs sirloin or flank steak
1 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorn
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Grind fennel and peppercorns and set aside 1/2 teaspoon of the ground spices for dressing. Heat the broiler, blot the meat, and place it in a foil-lined pan. Sprinkle half the salt on the meat, then half the spice mix. In an electric oven, broil about five inches from the element, flipping and seasoning with the remaining salt and spices halfway through. For rare steak, broil for about six minutes per side. For well-done . . . longer.
Rest the meat for ten minutes, before slicing thinly across the grain. Serves 4-5. Garnish with fennel seeds, if you can find the sweet, green ones.
2 heads fennel, sliced very thin
3 navel oranges, supremed, juice reserved
1 shallot, sliced thin
2 tablespoons orange juice from navel oranges
1 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon reserved fennel-pepper mix
Arrange fennel, oranges, and shallots on the serving dish. Whisk together dressing and pour it over gently. You can slice the salad several hours in advance and refrigerate it, since the fennel won't go brown. But don't dress the salad more than half an hour before dinner.