11 Chefs on Their Favorite Ways to Cook Fennel

From juicing the stalks to turning the bulbs into ice cream, learn the best ways to transform fennel into memorable desserts, salads, soups, and more.

Photo: © NOSH ON IT

Fennel is one of those polarizing ingredients that people either love or hate. It's kind of like black licorice in that way, which makes sense because the two flavors are often associated. Fennel lovers relish its long season, which typically lasts from October through April, and enjoy showcasing the bulbous plant's distinct taste in their cooking. For fennel skeptics, the good news is that — when mixed with other ingredients — fennel's strong anise notes become more muted.

Whether fall, winter, or spring, the creative possibilities for cooking fennel are endless, from classic preparations like fennel salad to unexpected variations like fennel cake. Here, 11 chefs from across the United States share their favorite ways to cook with fennel.

Flynn McGarry, executive chef, Gem

"I love juicing fennel stalks and using the juice in a bright vinaigrette for raw fish. Then I thinly slice the bulbs and simply dress them in olive oil and lemon."

Fennel-and-Grapefruit-Rubbed Snapper
© John Kernick

Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle, executive chefs, Spice Finch

"Our favorite way to cook fennel is by braising it with our preserved orange, white wine, and garlic, then serving it alone or with fish and lighter meats."

Gabriele Carpentieri, executive chef, Morandi

"I really like raw fennel in salads, but I also enjoy it braised in a very aromatic vegetable stock of onions, celery, coriander seed, star anise, thyme, and bay leaves with olive oil and sliced lemon, paired with a branzino or orata."

Aimee Olexy, restaurateur, The Love, Talula's Garden, Talula's Daily

"I love fennel. My favorite interaction is buffalo milk cheese — namely a burrata or buffalo mozzarella — and fresh shaved fennel that I refresh in salt water and dry. Buffalo milk is the sweetest of all milks, and incredibly rich. The fennel is hydrating and crunchy, and both flavors distill one another incredibly well; fennel really embraces the sweet, milky cheese. A touch of olive or almond oil, aged vinegar, and warm crusty bread is a beyond delicious complement."

Baked Onions with Fennel Bread Crumbs

Danny Grant, executive chef, etta

"I lightly peel the bulbs and shave them nice and thin on the mandoline. I season them with salt and cover with extra virgin olive oil, gently cooking until the fennel is slightly wilted. Once that happens, I remove it from the oil and finish with capers, preserved lemon zest, parsley, fennel pollen, and lemon juice. It's the best accompaniment for a simple salad or a beautiful piece of fish."

Jesus Nuñez, executive chef, Sea Fire Grill

"I love to cook fennel whole and roasted. I prepare them simply with salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. When I go to roast them, I cover with aluminum foil."

Aksel Theilkuhl, executive chef, The Bygone

"I actually don't like to cook fennel. When it's raw, I shave it down to be paper-thin with a knife or mandoline. I soak it in ice water so that it curls up, almost looking like curly fries, and use it for fennel salad. The salad I make is the fennel tossed in pure buttermilk with salt, pepper, and fresh chives. It's great on its own but also great for topping a sandwich, with fish, and more."

Fennel-and-Fava-Bean Salad

Eden Grinshpan, celebrity chef, Eden Eats

"I absolutely love a fresh shaved fennel salad; it's got such a great crunch and anise flavor. It really makes salads special. I'm a big fan of braising my fennel with garlic and finishing with lemon juice and fresh herbs; or in the oven with orange juice, Allepo, and olive oil. It's extremely versatile and always ends up the star of the table."

Brad McDonald, food and beverage director, Ace Hotel New Orleans

"I roast the fennel and then braise it with Herbsaint. I used this as a garnish for our Redfish à la Niçoise at Couvant. First we took the trimmings and then combined them with the bones to make a fumet. That fumet was cut with tomato water to make a reduction, which was served as the sauce for the dish."

Leigh Omilinsky, executive pastry chef, Swift & Sons

"I love making fennel ice cream and pairing it with apples. It's sweet and anise-forward and somehow unexpected. As far as just eating fennel, roasting them is a favorite, but I also like to slice the fennel really thin and put a fair amount of olive oil on a sheet tray, so the fennel is about halfway submerged. Throw some Parm on the fennel and cook it in the oven until the fennel gets soft and the cheese gets bubbly. It oddly tastes like pepperoni pizza. So delicious."

Joe Frillman, Executive Chef/Owner, Daisies

"My favorite way to eat fennel is simply grilled over wood or charcoal. Fennel is one of those vegetables that eats so well raw that I don't see it cooked often enough. With the smoky flavors and the char you can achieve with live fire, it brings a whole different element to it. The quick application of heat helps to bring out those licorice notes and it still has that pleasant texture that I always associate with fennel. They make a great addition to any simple salad as a delicate smoky licorice highlight when they are sliced lengthwise half-inch thick and quickly grilled with some extra virgin olive oil and salt."

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