Each time I receive fennel in my box, I get excited to make this dish. It is one of my favorites for many reasons. First, it is easy to make, with little prep time and only a few minutes spent over the stove. You still need to allow time for it to braise, but the good news is that the oven does all the hard work. Secondly, I love slow cooked meats. They are juicy, melt in your mouth good. Super comfort food. Finally, this dish does a good job at featuring the fennel without it being too overpowering. My initial concern with fennel in the past was that the licorice like flavor was too strong for me. Many of the recipes I had found were created around that flavor profile. What is great about this dish is that, even if you are not a fan of fennel, you will still be a fan of this dish.
1 (1 1/2 inch) piece cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 lb boneless pork shoulder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed
4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices peeled fresh ginger, smashed
2 (4-by 1-inch) strips fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup medium-dry Sherry
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 fennel bulbs, stalks cut off and discarded, then bulbs slices lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Special equipment needed; kitchen string
Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Wrap cinnamon stick and fennel seeds in a small square of cheesecloth and tie bundle closed with string.
Pat pork dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a deep 6-8 quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Then brown pork, turning, about 4 minutes. Transfer to bowl when browned.
Cook onion and garlic in same pot, over medium heat, stirring, until golden, 3-5 minutes. Add ginger, zest, sugar and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in soy sauce, sherry, broth, pork with any accumulated juices, and cheesecloth bag. Braise mixture, covered, in oven 1 hour.
Stir in fennel and braise, covered, in oven until fennel is very tender, 30-4o minutes. Discard cheesecloth bag. Stir in cilantro.
Because this recipe yields 6 servings, it is an excellent dish to make for company. It is easy to make ahead of time and reheats well. Or, if you are a fan of leftovers, it is a great option to make over the weekend and pack for lunches during the week. I like to serve this dish over a bed of Basmati rice. I always make my rice in a rice cooker. It is low maintenance and assures that it comes out perfect every time. Adding a side of steamed broccoli or asparagus is a good way to get in some extra greens as well.
This meal is hardy and delicious. The flavors are subtle yet complex. It is a great way to introduce yourself to a new vegetable that you may not otherwise pick up at the market. So go ahead and give fennel a chance :)