Today we’re gonna talk about braising vegetables, why bacon is delicious, and what to do what all those fennel bulbs you bought at the farmers market but don’t know what to do with. This is DEVOUR and its time to get cooking.
Summer is slowly but surely coming to a plateau, if not the beginning of the decline. The latest heatwave has finally broken and temperatures in NYC are finally below 95°. In my culinary class, we have been talking about braising, which is a type of cooking which usually is for cooking tougher cuts of protein by browning the outside by searing than submerging in liquid at a low temperature for a few hours to break down the internal fibers and turn an otherwise inedible piece of meat into a juicy delicious cut. An example of braising you may be familiar with is Ossobucco which is a braised veal shank that is seared then immersed in a brown veal stock with some veggies (for more flavor) and baked at around 350° for several hours. After which, the tough shank becomes a melt in your mouth deliciousness. Every nice Italian restaurant has Ossobucco, but I guarantee that you had never Braised Fennel with Lardons. But I promise you will love it!
Ok, so let’s assume you decided to grab your canvas bag, walk to the farmer’s market and grabbed several bulbs of fennel from the nice old hippy from upstate NY selling beautiful produce. Now your home and it has been a few days since the fennel were at peak freshness. Maybe it’s not the best idea to shave it thin for a salad. Maybe the fronds started to fall off a bit and aren’t their brightest shade of green, but the bulb is still in great shape. If you peel off the outer layer, slice it about 1/4″ thick, gently cook in pan with bacon fat from rendered lardons, cover with vegetable stock stock than bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then you are pretty much a culinary mastermind because that is how easy braising fennel can be.
Some of you might be reading this and thinking, “I’m a vegetarian so I don’t eat bacon or chicken/veal stock” and that’s a great point. While I was in class I asked my chef why we were using bacon and meat stocks in a braised vegetable dish. He broke it down simply as being a matter of flavor. He pointed out that while fennel is delicious, most people don’t see this on the menu and go, “wow I love braised fennel! I gotta have that!” but people’s brains turn on when they see “lardons”. Lardons are just slabbed bacon cut into rectangles, that’s it, nothing special. But when you have this delicious fennel flavor with the smokey, meaty bacony flavor blending together, you have a vegetable dish that even meat eaters can enjoy. I don’t think I would serve this as a main item, but I can see this as being a great accompaniment at Thanksgiving with Roasted Turkey or even with Roast Chicken on a weeknight. Both can sit in the oven at the same time and at the same temperature and would be delicious together. The flavor of fennel is delicious without a doubt, but the bacon simply adds depth and helps appeal to those who eat meat and would generally shy away from vegetarian items (dishes that are just vegetables) even though I acknowledge that that argument is ridiculous. So without further discussions, let’s get cooking!
Braised Fennel w/ Lardons
Portion: 4 people
- 2 fl oz. EVOO
- 8oz Slab Bacon, skin removed, cut into under 1/4″ lardons
- 1 Onion, sliced
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- 2 Fennel bulbs, cut into 6 slices per bulb
- 12 fl oz. Vegetable Stock
- 8 fl oz. White Wine
- Bouquet Garni
- 1 Tbl. Softened Butter
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Heat olive oil in a rondeau pan (12″ wide pan w/ high side, appx . 5-6″) on medium high. Render lardons until browned.
- Add sliced onions and season w/ a pinch of salt. Sweat 3-4 minutes, do not let burn. Lower the heat if necessary.
- Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the fennel in a slightly overlapping pattern. Cover with the vegetable stock, white wine and bouquet garni.
- Prepare a cartouche. Butter one side of the cartouche and place over the fennel. Cover the rondeau with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a rolling boil then place in the oven for 30-35 min, or until a fork can easily pierce the thickest part of the fennel. The fennel should be extremely tender, but not much
To plate: Take some of the onions from the broth and lay them on the bottom of a medium sized, flat-lipped bowl. Place 3 slices of fennel in the bowl & above the onions. Ladle 3-4oz liquid over the fennel than lay several lardons over the fennel.
To recap, this recipe is incredibly delicious and is a great way to use up all your fennel before it goes bad. I mean, the alternative would be to not buy fennel, but, I mean… who wants to do that? Not me! If you can get a hold of slab bacon, use the thickest cut of bacon you can find and cut into thing lardons. You can also substitute the type of stock you use in case you don’t have vegetable stock. Most people I talk to who are passionate about home cooking usually don’t have vegetable stock, but they always have chicken stock. Chicken stock or even veal stock if you are super fancy would really push this recipe to a new level of delicious. For the vegetarians interested, I would suggest ditching the bacon, and starting a bit earlier. To get a deeper flavor, take 24 fl. oz. of vegetable stock and reduce until it’s 12 fl. oz. and add a pinch of liquid smoke. In doing so, you will help to enhance the flavor. The light flavor of the fennel is great when slicing thin to make a salad, but when it’s thicker and cooked, it tends to take on the flavor of everything it is cooking in. Regardless of how you choose to enjoy fennel normally, I encourage you to try this!
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