What is Fennel Anyway?

Fennel
Fennel

Fennel is an interesting food. Even though it is commonly used, you really have to look to find it at the grocery store.

Most will find that it doesn’t end up on their counter unless they frequent farmer’s markets or participate in a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture). Once they do receive one, it can be a real head scratcher. What the heck do we do with this thing?

Let’s have a closer look.

Fennel is a perennial herb that is part of the carrot family. All of its component parts are edible: bulb, stock, and leaves.

The flavour of fennel is similar to black licorice and can be used to flavour both savoury and sweet dishes.

There is some confusion about fennel. Is Anise and Fennel the same thing? What about the star shaped anise used in Chinese Five Spice?

Fennel vs Anise

Many grocery stores confuse these two plants. When you find something labelled “anise”, it is usually fennel. Here are some of the differences:

  • The entire fennel plant is edible, but only the seeds of an anise plant are edible
  • Both are part of the carrot family, but are completely different plants
  • Fennel is a perennial herb, whereas anise is an annual herb
  • Both taste similar to black licorice
  • Star anise doesn’t come from the fennel or anise plants

Storage

Just like other vegetables with tops (carrots, beets, etc.), it is important to cut off the tops if you plan on storing fennel in the fridge for a few days. The tops will pull moisture from the bulb if left attached.

  • There is no need to wash fennel before storing. Brush off any excess dirt and check for bugs.
  • Cut off tops and store separately in containers or bags.
  • Use within a couple of days for best flavour.

Freezing

Fennel is a good candidate for freezing.

  • Separate the leaves, stocks, and fennel bulb.
  • Leaves and stocks do not need to be blanched before freezing. Lay flat on a baking sheet and place in freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer safe bag or container. Don’t forget to label with the name and date.
  • Trim the end of the fennel bulb and remove tougher outer leaves. Cut bulb into quarters. Place into boiling water for 30 seconds to blanch. Place directly into ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, dry the leaves and place onto a baking sheet and put into the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer safe bag or container. Don’t forget to label with the name and date.

Keep in mind that frozen fennel will not have the same texture as fresh. But, it is great to use in things like soups and stews.

Uses For Fennel

Using raw bulbs:

  • Raw fennel will have a stronger flavour and can be quite chewy. It is best to thinly slice the bulb when used in salads, etc. Use a mandolin, very sharp knife, or even a cheese grater to slice it really thin.
  • The stocks can be easily used in place of celery raw. Don’t use overly tough pieces.
  • The leaves can be used just as you do fresh herbs.

Cooking Fennel:

  • Cooking fennel really mellows out the flavour.
  • Cook fennel any way you would cook other vegetables (roast, braise, sauté).
  • Combine fennel with other vegetables and then roast or sauté.

Do you love fennel? Let us know how you like to eat or prepare it.

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