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When most people think of fennel, two things likely come to mind; licorice and Italian sausage. And while both of those would be correct, there is so much more to this plant. The fragrance is licorice but the flavor varies widely depending on the part you use. The strongest is the pollen from the plant and for many people is difficult to get and very expensive when you can; with a decent substitute for the pollen being the toasted ground seeds. The seeds which are a staple of Italian sausage are simular in taste and appearance to anise seed although milder and take on a warm flavor when toasted. The fronds are the mildest part and are perfect for adding at the last minute to a dish for very subtle flavor or as a bed for roasted chicken or fish. And finally, that leaves us with the bulb. Admit it-many of you have seen those white bulbs with the big green fronds and passed on by for something more familiar. After all, it smells like licorice and who wants to eat licorice for dinner. I’m telling you-you’re missing out. The taste of the bulb is VERY subtle; this coming from a person who is by no means a licorice fan. It can be sauteéd, braised, stewed or eaten raw which is what I’ve done here.
Let me back up and tell you how this recipe came about. It was by doing exactly what I keep telling myself I won’t do again-wandering the grocery store until something strikes me. A task made more daunting with two kids in tow who didn’t have the same enthusiasm as I did to peruse the grocery cases. “Can we go already? This is boring. Why don’t we just make tacos.” After what surely seemed like an hour to them but in actuality was less than ten minutes, I found a boneless pork loin roast on sale. Just below was a display with various deli mustards and the ideas started coming.
“Sorry guys. Just a few more things and we can leave,” I said to give them encouragement. By the time we made our way over to the produce, I had already decided on crusting the pork with mustard and panko crumbs and figured some kind of apple slaw would go well with it. As I was grabbing some Granny Smiths, the corner of my eye caught the long fronds of fennel protruding from the display case. I had the perfect compliment to the apples and pork. After a little tweaking in my head on the ride home, the recipe came together and I got going on dinner. Enjoy!
The first thing I did was get a brine together. I had two hours until I needed to get the roast cooking and a fast brine really helps add flavor and moisture to lean pork loin. In a large non-reactive bowl I added 1/4 cup kosher salt, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns and 1 tablespoon coriander seeds then poured in 4 cups lukewarm water and mixed well. I added 5 cups of crushed ice to cool the water and layed in my roast. I let it brine for 2 hours then rinsed it under water and patted dry. I tied in three places to hold its shape while cooking and got going on coating.
I toasted 1 1/2 tablespoons of fennel seed in a dry skillet over medium heat until it released its fragrance about 4 minutes. I let them cool slightly then ground them in my spice grinder (a mortis and pestle is fine). I combined it with 3 tablespoons dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon olive oil in a small bowl. I poured 3/4 cup of panko breadcrumbs in a pie plate, then rubbed the mustard mix all over the roast and rolled the roast in the panko to coat on all sides.
In a medium fry pan I added 3 tablespoons canola oil over medium high heat and browned the roast on all sides until the coating was crisp about 3 minutes per side. When it was done browning I removed it to a bake pan that I greased with cooking spray and roasted it in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, I reduced the temperature to 350 degrees and let it cook 25 minutes more until the internal temperature was 142 degrees then removed it and let it rest.
While the pork was roasting I made the sauce. I diced 2 shallots and sauteed them with 2 tablespoons butter in a fry pan over medium heat until softened about 5 minutes. I poured in 1/3 cup dry white wine and let it reduce to almost nothing about 4 minutes then stirred in 2 tablespoons dijon mustard and cooked for 1 minute. I then added 1 cup of apple juice, 1 cup of chicken stock, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar to the pan and let this reduce down to 1 cup about 15 minutes on medium high.
This is what it looked like after reducing. I poured the reduced sauce into my blender and added 1/3 cup cream and blended until well combined. Remember to leave the lid askew on the blender for steam to escape or you’ll be wiping the sauce from your ceiling. After it was blended, I poured it back into the pan, whisked in 2 tablespoons cold butter and let it simmer until thickened about 4 minutes.
I filled a large bowl halfway with cold water and squeezed 1/2 a lemon into it and set my mandoline over the bowl. I quartered 2 granny smith apples and removed the stem and seeds. Placing the rounded skin side downward, I slaved thin slices into the water and repeated with the other pieces. I cut the stems and fronds from 2 large fennel bulbs then cut them in half through the root. After removing the hard core at the root, I shaved them starting at the root end into the water. I fished the apple out of the bowl and cut the slices into matchsticks then tossed them into a colander then poured in the fennel and let it all drain well. In a small bowl I whisked together 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil(any mild oil is fine), 3/4 teaspoon sugar, pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I tossed the apples and fennel with the dressing, sliced the meat and plated.
- 1 boneless pork loin roast about 2-2¼ pounds
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 4 cups water
- 5 cups crushed ice
- 1½ tablespoons fennel seed
- 3 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons oil for frying
- 2 shallots diced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 1 cup apple juice
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ⅓ cup cream
- 2 tablespoons cold butter
- juice from ½ lemon
- 2 granny smith apples quartered, stemmed and cored
- 2 large fennel bulbs halved with stems and cores removed
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil or any mild
- ¾ teaspoon sugar
- pinch of sea salt
- fresh black pepper
- fennel fronds for garnish
- To make the brine combine the first 4 ingredients with the water until the salt and sugar are dissolved then add the ice. Place the pork in the brine and let sit for 2 hours. Remove the pork and wash under cold water then pat dry. Tie the pork in 3-4 places to maintain shape during cooking.
- Toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet for 3-4 minutes until fragrant then cool slightly and roughly grind it in a spice grinder or mortis and pestle. Combine the ground fennel with 3 tablespoons dijon and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Pour the panko into a pie plate, rub the mustard mix all over the pork and roll the pork in the panko to completely coat it.
- Add 3 tablespoons oil to a fry pan over medium high heat and brown the coated pork on all sides about 3 minutes per side. Place the roast in a baking pan coated with cooking spray and roast in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and raost an additional 25 minutes until the internal temperature reaches about 142 degrees. Remove and let stand until ready.
- While the pork is cooking add 2 tablespoons butter to a fry pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Add the wine and reduce to almost nothing about 4 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons dijon and cook for 1 minute. Add the apple juice, stock, and 2 tablespoons vinegar to the pan and reduce to approx. 1 cup about 15 minutes over medium high heat.
- Pour reduced sauce in a blender, add the cream and pureé. Pour back into the pan, whisk in 2 tablespoons cold butter and cook until thickened about 4-5 minutes.
- Fill a large bowl halfway with water and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Place a mandoline over the bowl and starting with the skin side down shave the apple intothe water in slices then shave the fennel into the water. Fish out the apple slices and cut them into matchsticks. Place the fennel and apple in a colander to drain. Combine 3 tablespoons vinegar, 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, ¾ teapoon sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl then toss with the fennel and apple.
- To plate divide the salad among the plates. Place a slice of pork on top and spoon sauce over. Garnish with fennel fronds.