Cooking with Fennel: Tips for Using the Whole Head (Don’t Toss Those Fronds!)

published Apr 5, 2013
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Has fennel crossed your kitchen threshold yet? If you’ve never tried fennel, it helps to know that it’s used as an herb as frequently as a vegetable. It is very aromatic, with a slightly sweet, little-bit-spicy anise flavor. The super versatile bulb is shredded to make salads and side dishes, braised with chicken or fish for heartier dinners, and pureed into soups and sauces. I’ve even had fennel ice cream, and it was quite wonderful. But after all of those great uses for the bulb — what about the stalks and those showy, feathery green leaves? Here are some tips for using the entire head of fennel.

Many restaurants and fennel-loving home cooks these days are actually using all of the fennel when preparing dishes — chopping the stalks up finely and adding them to the dish itself and using the leaves as garnish. I hate wasting in general, but I especially hate wasting beautiful produce so I was heartened to see ways in which all of the fennel head is entirely edible and, I’m happy to report, quite delicious. Here are some places to start.
  • The stalks resemble celery stalks in texture and crunch, so you can add them raw to green salads or cook them down as you would an onion into quick stir-fries, pastas, or braises. Toss them into the roasting pan when you’re roasting the fennel bulbs.
  • As for those fronds? They have a mild anise flavor, but because they’re so delicate and beautiful they’re most often used for garnish. As long as you chop them away from the stalks and keep them in an airtight container, they should last about one week in the refrigerator, so you can continue sprinkling them on salads, finished vegetable dishes, or just about anywhere you find could use some color and bright flavor.
Do you have any favorite ways for using up a whole head of fennel?

New to Fennel?

Get the Recipe Pictured: Tangy Apple Fennel Slaw at Inspired Taste