The Braised Fennel Fiasco

Years ago I took a class at the French Culinary Institute called the Essentials of Fine Cooking. This means, among other things, I have a full-on chef’s outfit. I also have an impressive set of knives. The last thing that I can think of that came with the diploma is this recipe for braised fennel. It is a show stopper.

The thing is this isn’t the recipe they taught us. On day one we learned how to arrange a tidy work space (also how to cut up crudite with the maximum amount of waste). Anyway, I must have missed the all-important tip on how to keep your salt straight from your sugar. A happy oversight it turned out. Here is the accidental recipe for braised fennel I’ll be making tonight (it’s going to sound pretty specific; feel free to improvise):

Trim and halve 4 fennel bulbs and boil them in salted water for 10 minutes. In an oven-safe pan soften 2 diced shallots and 1 smashed garlic clove in butter. Arrange the fennel in one layer in the pan and add some olive oil, 1/2 cup white wine, 1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock, and 3 plum tomatoes, diced. And here you are to season, so sprinkle in sugar as you would salt (exactly as you would if you kept tasting it and adding more because you couldn’t taste the salt). Bring it to a simmer, cover, and move to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, basting occasionally, and then uncover, sprinkle with bread crumbs, and raise the temperature to 450 degrees. Cook for 5 more minutes or until the fennel bulbs are golden. At this point I had discovered my snafu, so give it a little salt and pepper before serving. In class, we paired it with a prissy orange compound butter; I recommend with peppered steak or spicy italian sausage.

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