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An Affinity for Fennel

To be honest, I’m not sure where my appreciation for fennel came from. I was never really a fan of anise or black licorice flavoured candies as a kid. But once I started cooking in professional kitchens I quickly grew a fondness for its slightly sweet anise flavour. Not only does it have a diverse range of culinary uses, it also has a long list of medicinal qualities like helping with digestive and respiratory ailments.

To be honest, I’m not sure where my appreciation for fennel came from. I was never really a fan of anise or black licorice flavoured candies as a kid. But once I started cooking in professional kitchens I quickly grew a fondness for its slightly sweet anise flavour. Not only does it have a diverse range of culinary uses, it also has a long list of medicinal qualities like helping with digestive and respiratory ailments.

With the little white and green fronds sprouting up at the Edge of the Woods Farm, I anxiously await the harvest of the fennel that we planted this past spring. I was going to wait for our crop to come to maturity before I tasted any fennel this year. However, when my sweetie told me she was going to roast some fennel for my belated birthday dinner I simply couldn’t refuse. She served it with a wonderfully prepared pork chop, a natural pairing for the fennel. It was a real treat to share an intimate and delicious meal on her cozy balcony in Toronto.

In the kitchen I hold the position that making a shaved fennel salad with lemon juice (or any type of acid), oil and salt is a great test of a cook’s seasoning ability. With those few ingredients you are able to play with the balance of acid, salt, sweet, and bitter flavours very easily. The more you make this skill revealing salad, the better you will understand how to apply balance and seasoning to everything else you prepare in the kitchen.

I enjoy this salad on its own or as an accompaniment to fresh fish. When fennel is served raw it has a clean, crisp, bright flavour that I find refreshing.

Shaved Fennel Salad

  • Fennel bulb
  • Lemon (or any other citrus or vinegar)
  • Oil (like first pressed olive oil)
  • Salt

Optional:

  • If fennel isn’t sweet enough for your liking, use a bit of honey
  • soft herbs like parsley, chervil, or the fronds from the fennel are a nice addition

Method

  1. Trim stalks and fronds off of the fennel bulb. If the bulb is large remove the outer, more fibrous layer of the bulb.
  2. Save the fronds and outer layer for another preparation.
  3. Cut in half from top to the root and carefully remove the root and save it for a stock or soup.
  4. Cut as thinly as you can from top to bottom. You can use a mandolin if you have one and are comfortable using it. Alternatively you can use a box grater to grate the fennel.
  5. Squeeze lemon juice into a bowl and mix with an equal amount of oil.
  6. Mix lemon juice, oil, fennel and salt in a mixing bowl coating well and adjusting the seasoning as you like.
  7. Try different ratios of oil and lemon juice and see how that changes the balance of the salad.

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