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Friday, February 12, 2010

Figuring Out Fennel

Fennel bulb intrigues me and I love it in salads and roasted, but ideas for how to combine its nutty licorice-ness in a cooked savory dish have alluded me. Two fennel bulbs and a chuck roast in my fridge inspired me to do a little searching on the web. A beef stew with fennel gremolata stood out, but I could see I would have to make a few changes to suit my cooking style and what I had on hand. Since I was going to be zesting an orange for the stew, I knew that I would have to make my son's favorite salad, a combination of arugula, fennel, and orange that we enjoy with Dungeness crab on special occasions.

In reviewing the recipe for the stew, I knew immediately that I would not use red pepper, both because it's out of season and because I wanted to emphasize the flavor of the root vegetables. While I have canned tomatoes in my pantry, that much tomato did not go with what I had in mind either, though it seemed that a bit of my lactofermented ketchup, with its cloves and celery seeds, would complement the dish and thicken the braising liquid somewhat. If you don't make your own ketchup, use plain tomato paste. Most commercial ketchups will add too much sweetness.

I only used four ¾-inch strips of orange zest--about half of the zest from one medium size blood orange--but that was enough to give the dish a rich orange flavor that worked well with the beef, fennel, and root vegetables. I used a vegetable peeler to remove just the orange zest, leaving behind the bitter white pith. I left the remaining strips of zest on a rack to dry. I keep the dry strips in a jar to add to dishes like this one when I don't have oranges on hand.

As I mentioned in my post about Beouf Bourguignon, when braising in my sauteuse pan, I have to keep a close eye on things as the liquid tends to dissipate thanks to the pan's large surface area. I cooked some potatoes to go with the meal and added some cooking liquid to the braise. You could do the same, or add more broth. If you're using a Dutch oven, you probably won't have this problem. Got picky eaters who don't like cooked root vegetables? Remove all the meat from the finished dish, purée the vegetables with a immersion blender, then return the meat to the deceivingly delicious gravy.

Braised Beef with Orange, Fennel  and Root Vegetables
Serves 6-8

1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons tallow
2½ to 3 pounds chuck roast,  cut into ¾-inch chunks
1 large onion, sliced
1 large fennel bulb, sliced
1 carrot, diagonally sliced
2 medium beets, sliced 
1 parsnip, diagonally sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons lactofermented ketchup or tomato paste
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dry thyme or several sprigs fresh
1 pint beef broth, more if needed
4 ¾-inch wide strips strips of zest peeled from one blood orange, reserve rest of orange for salad

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Melt tallow over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or sauteuse. Mix salt and pepper together in a small bowl, then sprinkle half of it generously over cubes of beef. Brown beef in on all sides, then remove from pan. Saute onion, fennel, carrot and parsnip in the same pan, adding some more tallow if necessary. When the vegetables are soft, add the garlic, ketchup, fennel seed, and thyme, cook for 2 minutes then add the broth and orange zest. Return meat to pan, cover, and bring to broth to a boil. Move pan to oven and cook until meat is tender, about 1½ to 2 hours. 

Arugula, Blood Orange, and Fennel Salad
Serves 4
juice from 1 Meyer lemon or other small lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon miso (optional)
salt and pepper
1 small fennel bulb
1 blood orange
1 pound arugula

Combine lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, oils, and miso in a jar, cover, and shake vigorously. Taste and add salt and pepper. Set dressing aside. Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, through the root. Remove the core. Holding the stem end of the bulb half, thinly slice the fennel on a mandolin or with a very sharp knife. Repeat with other half. Place slices in a bowl. Section the orange, holding it over the bowl of fennel to capture the juices while you work and dropping freed orange sections in bowl. Toss the orange and fennel together--the citric acid from the orange will keep the fennel from browning. Just before serving, toss fennel, orange, and arugula with about half of the dressing, reserve the rest for another day.    

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