Fennel is an herb, but it’s used more like a vegetable. It has a layered, creamy white base and long stalk with willowy sprigs of green called fronds. It doesn’t look like it will deliver flavors of licorice, but that’s how the taste is usually described. A bite of it is a pleasant surprise for the tastebuds.
The stalks are tough and typically discarded, but the wispy fronds are a lot like dill in texture. They can be chopped fine to use as an herb in soups, sautés, and baked goods.
The bulb is most often served thinly sliced and it can be eaten raw in salads, skillet cooked, or roasted in the oven. Eaten raw it is a lot like celery in texture – crispy with a high water content. Roasting fennel caramelizes the sugars and deepens the subtle licorice flavors. Both fresh and roasted fennel go well with crisp apples, citrus, and toasted nuts.
How to Choose a Bulb of Fennel
Fennel comes in a range of sizes. Some bulbs are as big as a softball while others are more like a tennis ball. Regardless of the size the bulb should be dense and the layers close and compact. While a little bruising here and there on white outer layers is common due to transport, be sure there are no spots of deep discoloration or decay.
The stalk and fronds should be perky, standing straight up from the bulb. A wilted stalk or dark, droopy fronds can mean the bulb has been sitting around too long at the store and is no longer fresh.
Recipes That Use Fennel
How to Cut Fennel
Before getting started, rinse your fennel bulb (and fronds if you plan to use them) under running water and pat dry with a clean dish towel or paper towels. During prep you will peel off the outer layers, so don’t worry if there are some wilted spots or minimum browning on the outside.
- 1 fennel bulb
Remove the stalk:
Cut off the stalk at the point where the green meets the white bulb. If you plan to use the fronds, pull them off the stalk and save for later. The fronds can be finely chopped and used as an herb on their own, like dill.
Cut the bulb in half:
Set the bulb root-side down on a cutting board. Cut the bulb in half working from the stalk end through the root end.
Cut it in quarters:
Place the cut-side of the half of the fennel bulb down and cut each half into quarters.
Remove any damaged layers:
Peel any shriveled or browned outside layers from the bulb.
Slice the fennel crosswise:
Thinly slice each quarter of the fennel, crosswise, working from the stem end to the root end. Stop just before reaching the root end and discard that part of the bulb.