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Sliced sautéed fennel, gorgeously caramelised on a knoblet of butter and a glug of maple syrup, sweetness broken beautifully with noble balsamic vinegar.
How to cook fennel?
My fennel history – briefly, as this is a brief recipe for a side dish – started with roast fennel. Various add-ons, roasted till scorched, with or without tomato sauce. I was not entirely sold on it being a tasty vegetable but then I discovered how awesome it was raw.
Raw fennel is the real deal
Raw, sliced as thinly as your skills or your mandolin will allow, marinated or not, with ranch dressing or with filleted orange – gorgeous. So much so that for approximately ten years I had consumed fennel only in the salad version – and on at least a fortnightly basis.
Until you discover caramelised fennel
Until on discovery of a slightly sad fennel languishing at the back of the veg drawer, decidedly unfit for slicing, I remembered that it can be cooked – and how.
This, my friends, is fantastic – I can happily have a bulb (or two, if small) for my whole main meal; with a crust of fresh bread perhaps.
Fennel almost dissolves into the caramelised sweetness, tanged up with the vinegar. A little butter is a must for the caramelisation finale but the white balsamic vinegar, though available in supermarkets sometimes under the guise of ‘white condiment’ or ‘balsamic glaze’, can be replaced with good quality wine or apple cider vinegar.
How to handle fennel
Final note – most recipes advise to cut out the core located in the fennel bottom but I’ve long discovered it to be a redundant piece of advice unless you’re dealing with a huge, overgrown bulb. It will keep the shape better if held through that bottom core and that is handy – I personally prefer to have it in slices rather than a pile of slivers.
caramelised fennelServings: 2-4Time: about 20 minutes
- 2 fennel bulbs
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt and black pepper
- 2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tsp butter
1. Trim the fennel bulbs and discard any browned outer layers. Slice them vertically, about 15mm thick.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan, large enough to fit all the fennel slices in a single layer, or work in batches.
3. Place the fennel in the pan and fry on high heat until charred, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the slices over and char the other side, seasoning again. If frying in batches, return all the fennel into the pan and turn down the heat.
4. Sprinkle over the balsamic vinegar, cover the pan with a lid and cook for a couple of minutes so the fennel softens.
5. Take off the lid, add the maple syrup and butter and turn the heat up again to bubble away excess liquid. Serve immediately.