What Is Fennel and How to Cook It

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The ultimate guide on how to prepare fennel: including how to chop, cook, and serve fennel with simple step-by-step instructions and FAQs!

Fennel cooked in three methods - roasted, grilled and in a raw salad

If you’ve never worked with fennel before, this odd-shaped bulb with branches and “hairy” leaves may seem a little daunting, but it’s surprisingly simple to work with and enjoy once you know how.

It’s crunchy with a robust, slightly sweet, anise-like flavor when raw. But it becomes super tender, caramelized, and mellow when roasted for a wonderfully aromatic side dish or addition to meals. Plus, every single part of it is edible. So let’s jump right in.

What Is Fennel?

Fennel (aka Foeniculum Vulgare) is a type of edible flowering plant member of the carrot family, with yellow flowers, feathery leaves (aka fennel fronds), and a large bulb.

While all parts of the plant are edible, the seeds, leaves, and bulb are particularly popular. They are used as a highly flavorful spice, herb, and vegetable (the latter is particularly with the Finnocchio and Florence varieties), respectively.

Four bulbs of fennel

It’s in peak season in February along with these other vegetables.

What Does Fennel Taste Like?

This depends on which part you’re eating. But generally, it’s described as a vegetable that tastes like licorice.

  • The dried fennel fruits (often referred to as “fennel seeds”) contain the most potent flavor, similar to anise. They are often used as a spice or to make fennel tea.
  • The fennel bulb also tastes very similar to anise, like a fresh, slightly sweet licorice flavor with a celery texture. It’s perfect for making a raw fennel salad or cooking it.
  • The fronds/leaves have a slightly milder, more citrusy flavor.

Fennel Vs Anise

While fennel is often compared to anise, the two are from different plants and have flavor differences. Anise is slightly sweeter and has a more potent licorice flavor. Fennel is more subtle overall and has more woody/green undertones.

What Is Fennel Good For?

Along with its culinary uses, there are several notable fennel benefits:

  • The fresh bulb is a good source of Vitamin C with smaller amounts of several other vitamins and minerals.
  • The fennel plant contains over 87 powerful plant compounds, including plenty of antioxidants to fight harmful free radicals and reduce inflammation. This in turn reduces the risk of several chronic diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc.).
  • Antimicrobial and anti-viral properties.
  • The fennel vegetable is an excellent source of dietary fiber to help maintain gut and heart health.

It may also suppress the appetite, relieve gastrointestinal and menopause symptoms, and even benefit mental health. Check out Healthline for more fennel benefits.

A bulb of fennel and a knife on a chopping board

How to Cut Fennel Bulb

Selecting fennel: Choose fresh fennel bulbs that feel heavy for their size, with tightly packed layers, no bruising, and firm stalks (if attached).

There are several ways to chop a fennel bulb. Here is my favorite way to prepare it.

  1. Cut the stalks away, close to where they connect to the bulb.
  2. Cut the remaining bulb in half and peel away any wilted outer layers. Also, cut away any tough fennel root from the bottom, if there is any.

You can optionally remove the core (cut it in a triangle shape to remove it). If you leave it in, it will hold the layers of the bulb together when slicing fennel but it has a tougher consistency.

  1. At this point, you can cut the halves in half again for thick wedges, in quarters for 8 wedges, or cut them into slices or varying thickness lengthwise or crosswise.
Steps for cutting fennel

To dice fennel, use a similar method to dicing an onion. First, cut the bulb in half, slice it over the top, then once through the side, and dice.

How to Shave Fennel

First, chop the fresh fennel into quarters, then use a sharp knife or a mandoline to cut thinly sliced fennel into half-moon shapes.

Shaved fennel tastes delicious on its own, in a larger salad, marinated, sautéed, and even caramelized.

Shaved fennel and a mandoline

What to Do with Fennel Fronds?

Fennel fronds are the “hairy” leaves at the top. They can be used similarly to soft herbs. Use them in salads, sauces, vinaigrettes, soups, garnish dishes, etc.

What to Do with Fennel Stalks?

The young shoots and the inflated base of the leaves can be consumed like celery. I like adding them to stews or soup stocks, like homemade vegetable stock. You can also use them as a “bed” underneath roasted meats (like roast chicken) or fish.

How to Cook Fennel

When it comes to how to use fennel, there are several popular cooking methods and fennel recipes. Here are a few of my top fennel recipes.

Quick Raw Fennel Salad Recipe

I think the best way to consume raw fennel is in a quick salad. All you need is raw fennel, lemon juice, and olive oil.

  1. Shave the fennel.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine.
  3. Serve garnished with the fennel fronds (or some dill/parsley) and optionally some lemon zest.
Ingredients for raw fennel salad

Grilled Fennel Recipe

Grilled fennel takes just minutes and adds a wonderfully smoky element to the cooked fennel.

  1. Slice the fennel in half and brush both sides with olive oil.
  2. Grill (or a griddle pan) over medium heat and cook for 3-5 minutes per side until lightly charred.
  3. Serve with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Grilled fennel on a griddle pan

Roasted Fennel Recipe

While this method takes longer, roasted fennel can become tender-crisp or melt-in-the-mouth tender with caramelized edges that bring out its sweetness and mellow the anise flavor.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.
  2. Cut the fennel into wedges and drizzle/brush with olive oil.
  3. Arrange on a baking sheet with space between and roast for 30-40 minutes until crisp-tender and caramelized around the edges.
  4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and optionally toss with a little butter). Enjoy!
Roasted fennel on a baking tray

You can try cooking with fennel by braising, sauteing, or stewing it. If you’d like to see more recipes using fennel, let me know in the comments.

What Goes with Fennel

Enjoy the cooked fennel as a simple side dish for fish and other proteins or roasted veggies (especially in Italian and Mediterranean recipes). Or add it to salads, pasta salads, pasta dishes, risotto, and more.

It pairs particularly well with apples, pears, nuts, citrus fruits, etc.

Storing Fennel

Store whole fennel bulbs loosely wrapped in the refrigerator for up to a week. Once sliced, keep it in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

Bulbs with the stalks/fronds attached will last longer.

Can You Freeze Fennel?

You can freeze both raw and cooked fennel. I save raw stalks and trimmings for vegetable stock and store the fronds in a separate ziplock for 2-3 months.

To freeze the bulb, quarter it and blanch it for 30 seconds. Then dry and flash freeze, before transferring to a Ziplock to store for up to 6 months.

Once cooked, flash freeze on a tray until solid, then transfer to a Ziplock for 2-3 months.

Grilled fennel on a plate

FAQs

What part of fennel do you eat?

The entire plant (bulb, leaves, stalk) is edible and can be enjoyed raw or cooked. However, the stalks can be a little too tough/fibrous to enjoy raw (or at all for some people).

Do you need to peel fennel?

Remove only dry/wilted or rubbery outer layers and discard them.

More Ingredient How-Tos

If you try these simple fennel recipes, recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!

Fennel Salad Recipe

5 from 10 votes
By: Samira
A simple 3-ingredient, 5-minute fresh fennel salad. It's fresh, crunchy, flavorful, and a perfect side dish for busy weeknights and cookouts.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients  

  • 5.5 oz fennel bulb 1 large or 2 small; thinly sliced/ shaved plus fennel fronds OR parsley/dill
  • 1.5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 Tbsp lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper

Instructions 

  • Shave the fennel by cutting away the stalks close to the bulb, chopping it in half, cutting away the core, and then using a sharp knife or mandoline to thinly slice it into half-moon slices.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Then leave it to marinate for 15 minutes.
  • Serve garnished with the fennel fronds (or some dill/parsley).
    Optionally serve with mint leaves, chopped walnuts, or shaved parmesan cheese. Sumac also pairs well with this salad.

Notes

What to do with fennel fronds? Fennel fronds are the “hairy” leaves at the top. They can be used similarly to soft herbs. Use them in salads, sauces, vinaigrettes, soups, garnish dishes, etc
What to do with fennel stalks? The young shoots and the inflated base of the leaves can be consumed like celery. I like adding them to stews or soup stocks, like homemade vegetable stock. You can also use them as a “bed” underneath roasted meats (like roast chicken) or fish.
Check the blog post for more information about fennel as well as other cooking methods to enjoy this vegetable.
Course: Appetizer, Salad, Side
Cuisine: European, Italian, Mediterranean
Freezer friendly: 2-3 Months
Shelf life: 1-2 Days

Nutrition

Calories: 121kcal, Carbohydrates: 7g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 11g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Sodium: 336mg, Potassium: 336mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 106IU, Vitamin C: 14mg, Calcium: 40mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

5 from 10 votes (10 ratings without comment)

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