Fennel is a vegetable with a lot going for it. It's crunchy and sweet when tossed raw into a salad, or silky and toothsome with slow-cooked with a braise. But before you can eat it, you have to slice it. Here's how to take that hefty bulb of fennel and trim it down into bite-sized pieces.
Fennel is at its peak season from late fall to early spring, though it can usually be found year round. Choose bulbs that feel heavy for their size and have tightly packed layers. The stalks, if still attached, should feel firm; not limp or rubbery. Avoid bulbs with very loose outer layers or that look bruised or split on the outside.
Fennel is sold both with the stalks and fronds attached and with them removed. I recommend buying with the stalks attached or at least with some of the stalks still remaining; these bulbs tend to store better and for longer than those with the stalks totally removed. The stalks and fronds are also edible — bonus fennel! The tender, lacy fronds are fantastic in salads and the stalks can be chopped up into stews or used for vegetable stock.
Store fennel in the crisper drawer or loosely wrapped in plastic in your fridge. It's best used within a week, though will often keep for longer (just peel away the outer layers as they become wilted or rubbery).
The fennel bulb can be eaten raw or cooked — both have their perks! When raw, fennel is crunchy and sweet; once cooked, it becomes silky soft. Raw or cooked, fennel has a faint flavor of licorice or anise. Not so much that it overwhelms a dish, but just enough that it adds an interesting layer of flavor to the dishes in which it's used.
Trim off the fennel stems.
How To Cut Fennel
What You Need
1 bulb fennel, scrubbed clean
- Trim off the fennel stalks. If the stalks are still attached to your bulb of fennel, cut them away close to where they connect to the bulb. Save the fennel stalks and fronds for something else — the leafy fronds can be eaten raw and the stems are great for soup stock.
- Cut the bulb in half. Trim a little bit off the bottom of the fennel bulb to make the bottom stable (and cut away any tough root bits). Then, cut straight down through the root of the fennel bulb
- Cut the halves into quarters. Again, cut straight down through the root.
- Peel off any wilted outer layers. If the outer layer of your fennel bulb feels wilted or rubbery, peel it away and discard.
- Slice the fennel crosswise. With the quarter still on its side, slice crosswise to cut the fennel into slices. Start at the top of the bulb and work toward the root. Cut your slices thick or thin, according to your recipe. Repeat with the remaining bulbs
- Shave the fennel (optional). For really thin, shaved slices of fennel, use a mandoline. Lay the quarter of fennel with the cut side flat against the mandoline. Press down with the safety guard to secure the bulb, then quickly run the bulb across the blade to shave it into thin slices. Adjust the thickness as needed.
- Use or store the fennel: Fennel is ready to be used right away. To save it for later, submerge the slices in a little water, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
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(Image credits: Leela Cyd)