Fennel has shown up at the farmers’ markets here. I have always wanted to love fennel but I have always found it to be incredibly finicky. You can shave it raw for a nice refreshing salad but to get fennel cooked so that it is firm without being too crunchy or too soggy is something that has eluded me. Thought of perfectly cooked fennel, deeply caramelized keeps me coming back to try.
I have read a lot about the merits of sous vide for cooking meat and fish. I haven’t, however, read a lot about sous vide and vegetables. It turns out that cooking sous vide allows for better retention of vitamins (I even found a study) and allows you to force desired flavorings into the food in a remarkable way (edible cocktails anyone?). In the case of fennel you can cook it until it is done but still firm and then quickly sear it in a pan and enjoy some of the best fennel I have ever had.
Carmelized Fennel (Borrowing heavily from Keller’s Under Pressure)
Sachet: Bay leaf, thyme, pepper corns, star anise
Two medium fennel bulbs
Chop off the fennel tops. Remove any damaged leaves from the fennel leaves and/or peel the outside. Slice the fennel into 1/2 inch sized wedges trying to keep a piece of the core for each wedge. Toss the fennel with some pernod, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Vacuum seal with a sachet. In my case I used two bags each with a sachet. Cook at 85.5 C for 40-60 minutes until tender. I was closer to 60. Pull them out of the bags and pat dry and then sear in a skillet with some canola oil.
I added them to a “no kids eating dinner” salad with beans and radishes from the garden, lettuce from the market, bread toasted in butter, tuna, olives, and a little cheese. I tossed all the ingredients separately with a champagne vinegar and honey dressing to taste adjusting salt and pepper accordingly. The fennel had the wonderful deep flavor I’ve always wanted with just the right texture. Wonderful.