The crunchy texture and licorice-like flavor of fennel make it a popular ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes. You can eat fennel raw or cooked, and it’s a great addition to salads, soups, and sauces. Understanding how to cut fennel the right way can help you get the most out of this versatile vegetable.
The process of cutting fennels starts with trimming the stalks. The next step is to cut halfway down the bulb, then cut the halves into quarters. Proceed to remove any wilted outer layers, then cut the fennel into thin strips or slices. You can also chop fennel or shave it into thin strips using a mandoline.
The key to cutting fennel is to use a chef kitchen knife. This article will take you through a step-by-step guide on how to trim fennel and the right way to cut fennel into wedges, dices, slices, or strips.
What is fennel
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, is a bulbous vegetable in the Apiaceae family grown for its edible seeds, leaves, and stem. The anise-flavored bulb is crunchy and white or pale green with thin stalks. Although it appears to be in the same family as onions, it’s closely related to carrots and parsley.
Fennel is a common ingredient in Italian, Indian, and Thai cuisine. It’s native to the Mediterranean region but is now grown worldwide. Chefs love using fennel because of its unique licorice flavor and crunchy texture. The plant is also an excellent source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin c, folate, and manganese.
Fennel tastes like a cross between licorice and anise. The taste may vary depending on how you cook, with the sweet flavor being more pronounced when sauteed, roasted, or grilled with onions. Fennel has a crunchy texture that becomes more tender when cooked. Using fennel in your dishes can add a unique flavor and visual appeal.
Edible parts of fennel
All parts of the fennel plant are edible. The bulb, stalks, leaves, and seeds can all be used in cooking. Fennel leaves are delicate and lacy with a feathery texture.
Sliced fennel bulbs add crunch and sweetness to salads, while the fennel stalks can be cooked and added to soups or sauces. The fennel seeds are flavor-rich and can be used in curries, pickles, or baking.
Getting the right start is essential when cutting fennel. When you bring home a fresh fennel bulb, the first step is to trim the stalks. Trimming ensures that the fennel is stable and easier to cut.
The stalks are usually tough and fibrous, so it’s best to remove them before cutting the bulb.
Follow this step-by-step guide to trimming fennel:
- Prepare your working area: Place a wooden cutting board on your kitchen counter and place the fennel bulb in the center. Hold the bulb still with your dominant hand, so it doesn’t slip away from your grip.
- Trim the stalks and fronds: Establish where the bulb connects with the stalks and cut straight across the stalks with a sharp knife. Do the same for the fronds, the feathery leaves that grow from the stalks. You can save these to use as a garnish or discard them.
- Remove any wilted outer layers: With the stalks and fronds trimmed, you should be left with a clean fennel bulb. The next step is to remove any wilted or discolored layers. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to peel away any brown or yellow layers.
- Slice off 1/2 inch from the root end: Place the fennel on the cutting board, so its side is facing the knife. The root end is the end opposite from the stalks. Slice off 1/2 inch from the root end and discard it.
- Wash the fennel: Rinse the fennel bulb under cool water to remove any soil or debris. Use a dry towel to pat the bulb dry before you start cutting.
Detailed step by step guide to cutting fennel
The desired recipe will dictate the size and shape of the fennel slices. The different ways of cutting fennel include:
Hot to cut the fennel into wedges
Fennel wedges are a popular way to cut the vegetable for salads or sides. Wedges also make excellent ingredients for stews and braises.
Follow these steps to cut fennel wedges:
- Cut the fennel bulb in half: Place the fennel bulb on the cutting board so it rests on the cut side of the root end. Cut straight down through the center of the bulb with a sharp knife to divide it in two.
- Cut each half halfway: Place the half fennel bulb on the cutting board so its cut side is flat down on the cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut each half of the fennel, so each half is in quarters.
- Eliminate the core: The core is the tough, inner part of each fennel quarter. Use a paring knife to cut around the part where the stalks were attached to the bulb to remove it. Pull out the core with your finger or a fork.
- Cut the wedges: Cut the fennel wedges by slicing them lengthwise. Hold the bulb with your non-dominant hand and use your dominant hand to make lengthwise cuts. Slice the wedges as thick or thin as you like.
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How to dice fennel
Diced fennel is versatile to add flavor to salads, rice dishes, pasta, etc. When dicing fennel, it’s important to cut the vegetable into even pieces, so they cook evenly.
Follow these steps to dice fennel:
- Cut the fennel bulb in half: Hold the fennel bulb with your non-dominant hand and use a sharp knife to cut the bulb in half. Ensure that the knife is perpendicular to the cutting board to get even slices.
- Remove the core: With the bulb halved, use a paring knife to cut around the part where the stalks were attached to the bulb. Remove and discard the core.
- Cut lengthwise slices: Slice the fennel bulb lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. The lengthwise slices will make it easier to cut the fennel into even pieces.
- Cut the fennel into dice: Hold the stack of fennel slices together and use a sharp knife to make crosswise cuts. Cut the fennel into 1/4-inch dice. You can adjust the dice size depending on the recipe you are following.
How to slice the fennel
Sliced fennel is an easy way to add a crunchy texture and sweet flavor to salads and other dishes.
Follow these steps to slice the fennel:
- Cut the fennel in half: Place the fennel bulb on the cutting board, so its cut side is flat down on the cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut the bulb in half.
- Remove the core: With the bulb halved, use a paring knife to cut around the part where the stalks were attached to the bulb. Pluck out the core with your fingers or a fork and discard it.
- Slice the fennel: Place the halved fennel bulb on the cutting board so the flat side is facing down on the cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice the fennel perpendicularly into 1/4-inch thick slices.
How to eat fennel
You can enjoy the anise-like flavor of fennel raw or cooked. Fennel is a great addition to salads and is delicious when roasted, grilled, or sautéed. When cooking with fennel, it’s important not to overcook it, as it can become mushy.
- Soup: Fennel soup is an easy way to enjoy the vegetable’s flavor. The soup brings out the sweetness of the fennel and pairs well with crusty bread for dipping. Some people prefer to add a bit of cream to the soup for a richer flavor.
- Salad: A simple salad with arugula, parmesan cheese, and lemon dressing is great for enjoying the fennel’s crunchy texture and sweet flavor. Adding sliced fennel to a salad is a great way to add volume and nutrition.
- Side dish: Fennel can be roasted, grilled, or sautéed as a side dish. When roasting or grilling, make sure to drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When sautéing, use butter or oil and cook over medium heat until it’s slightly browned.
- Dessert: The sweetness of the fennel makes it a great addition to desserts. Fennel can be candied, used in a crème brûlée, or even used to make fennel ice cream.
- Gratin: Layering thinly sliced fennel with a bechamel sauce and Gruyere cheese makes for a delicious gratin. The fennel’s sweetness pairs well with the rich sauce and cheesy topping.
Understanding how to cut fennel is a valuable skill for any cook. The sweet, anise-like flavor of the vegetable pairs well with many other dishes, making it a versatile addition to your cooking repertoire. With just a few simple steps, you can be slicing up fennel like a pro. So next time you’re whipping up a salad or roasting some veggies, don’t forget the fennel.