Pan-seared fennel alone is yummy, but mojo-inspired citrus and garlic-herb sauce, umami-rich plantain powder, delicate anise-flavored fennel fronds, rich sunchoke cream, and a drizzle of really good olive oil elevate this to a standout dish. While layered, this is a fairly simple dish to make. The key is preparing some of the components (i.e., the plantain powder and sunchoke cream) ahead of time so you don’t get bogged down making garnishes. Trust me, the payoff is BIG. If my persnickety five-year-old likes this dish, you will love it.
Citrus and garlic-herb sauce
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large fennel bulbs with fronds
5 tablespoons olive oil
Fine sea salt
1/4 cup torn fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup Plantain Powder (recipe follows)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon orange zest
Sunchoke Cream (recipe follow), for serving
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Fleur de sel, for finishing
Make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.
Make the fennel: Cut the tops off the fennel bulbs, setting aside the fronds for garnish. Trim the bottoms. Quarter the fennel bulbs through the core, leaving some of the core intact so the pieces don’t fall apart as they cook.
In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the fennel quarters, cut-side down, and cook, turning the fennel with tongs, until all the cut sides are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, then use the tongs to carefully transfer the fennel to a plate.
Decrease the heat to medium-low. Pour in the sauce and bring it to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes just to warm through. Carefully transfer the fennel back to the skillet and simmer, basting and flipping the pieces every few minutes, until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
To serve, spoon a little of the sauce onto each of four small plates and top each plate with two pieces of fennel. Garnish each with 1 tablespoon of the parsley, a generous dusting of plantain powder, a few turns of black pepper, a pinch of orange zest, and a few of the reserved fennel fronds. Add a dollop of sunchoke cream. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve.
Song: “Afro-Cu (Bembé)” by Mongo Santamaria from What Do You Mean
Makes about 1/2 cup
I’ll admit that most of the time, I just buy savory plantain chips at the store and pulverize them in a spice grinder to make plantain powder. If you want to make them from scratch, here’s how.
1 green plantain (about 4 ounces)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Fine sea salt
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the ends off the plantain, then score the peel lengthwise in four even strips, being careful not to cut into the flesh of the fruit. Gently remove the skin. If the skin is difficult to peel, soak the whole plantain in just-boiled water for 3 to 4 minutes, then try again.
With a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut the plantain into paper-thin rounds and transfer to a medium bowl. Pour in the peanut oil and gently toss with clean hands to coat the plantains.
Spread the plantain slices on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer and sprinkle with salt. Bake until the slices are crisp and starting to turn golden, about 20 minutes, turning them over with a fork after 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Transfer the chips to a spice grinder or a mortar and pulverize into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Makes about 1 cup
The soft, sweet nuttiness of sunchokes adds a lot of flavor to dishes, and I frequently fold this sunchoke cream into soups and stews, much in the way one would use heavy cream. I also finish dishes with it when they need a cooling component—something creamy to pull all the ingredients together (like my Citrus and Garlic-Herb Braised Fennel).
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces sunchokes, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1 tablespoon millet flour
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon white wine
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more as needed
1/4 cup cashews, soaked in water overnight and drained
Freshly ground white pepper
In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sunchokes and sauté until they just start to soften, about 1 minute. Add the onion and sauté until soft, 3 to 5 minutes, being careful not to let it brown. Tip in the flour and mix well. Add the stock, wine, and salt. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, until the sunchokes are fully tender, about 10 minutes.
Drain the sunchoke mixture in a colander set over a bowl, reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the sunchoke mixture to a blender and add the cashews. Puree, adding the reserved cooking liquid a little bit at a time until the sunchoke puree easily pours from the blender (you will likely need between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup of the liquid). Season with salt and white pepper and serve.
Song: “Cold Coffee and Cocaine” by Prince from Piano & a Microphone 1983
Excerpted from Vegetable Kingdom by Bryant Terry. Copyright 2020 Ten Speed Press.
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