Licorice as a Thanksgiving flavor? Kind of, and it’s surprisingly good.
It’s easier — and more delicious — than you might think. That’s because fennel, as both a seed and a vegetable, can lend a delicate and even sweet anise flavor to the meal from soup to dessert and every dish in between.
Thinly shaved, the bright white bulb of raw fennel becomes a crisp, bracing salad, or creamy slaw. Braised, it mellows and sweetens, adding depth to dishes such as mashed potatoes. Roasted, fennel turns caramel brown and sweet as candy, and simmered in a stock it offers complexity that outstrips other aromatics.
“The great thing about fennel and all anise flavors is they are so kind to other flavors,” says Niki Segnit, author of The Flavor Thesaurus. “They always make everything taste a little bit more expensive.”
Fennel seeds are both grassy and sweet. Added to savory ingredients — sweet Italian sausage is a classic — they add a pop of palate-cleansing lightness. Sprinkled over sweet items, such as roasted carrots, their crunch cuts through the sugar with a delicate spray of anise. Ground into a spice rub, they make the other flavors sing.
“They’re punchy,” says Andrew Dornenburg, co-author of The Flavor Bible and What to Drink with What You Eat. “Fennel seed will bring out those extra notes.”
Fennel Sausage Cornbread Stuffing
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, white parts only, sliced thin
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
14 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 (12-ounce) bag cornbread stuffing
1 1/2 cups grapes, halved
In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the leeks and the fennel. When they have softened and become fragrant, add the sweet Italian sausage meat and sauté until browned and cooked through. Stir in the cornbread stuffing and halved red grapes. Proceed with baking the stuffing according to package directions.
Yield: 8 servings
Seeded Glazed Carrots
2 pounds carrots
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
3 tablespoons honey
Cut carrots into 1/2-inch chunks. Melt the butter in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and stir to coat. Season with salt, pepper and fennel seeds. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until browned and tender. Add honey and stir to coat.
Yield: 6 servings