A few weeks back, I got off work late and stopped at the grocery store on my way home. There I was, around eleven on a Wednesday night, walking through the store, absolutely stupid with hunger. You know the kind of hungry where you can’t begin to make a decision and, before you know it, you end up in a trance in the pickle aisle? You go home and end up having a dinner of sweet-hot pickles, eaten with your fingers, standing over the kitchen sink.
Yeah, these things happen. At least to me. And now you know, I really like pickles.
And what you’ve known for a long time is that I love fennel. And pickled fennel? Oh man, love is an understatement; it is so delicious! It’s all of the flavors and textures I adore; it’s crisp and crunchy, briny and acidic, anise-y and just a tad sweet. It’s unbelievably good with fish, excellent when added to a salad, and absolutely supreme on its own, late-night-fingers-in-the-jar style. What can I say–old habits die hard.
Making a quick pickle couldn’t be easier. We’re just going to heat some vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices to make a brine, then we’ll pour it over shaved fennel. Easy peasy. This time around, I used fennel, seeds, cloves, and orange peel to flavor the brine. Other times, I’ve used red pepper to add spice and anise seeds to ramp up the flavor. Coriander and mustard seeds would be good, too.
Shave a few bulbs of fennel on a mandoline or cut as thinly as you can with a knife. I like to add a shallot or an onion to add to give my pickles a little more bite.
Pack the shaved fennel into a few jars or a big bowl and pour the hot brine over the top. Let it cool, then transfer it to the refrigerator and let it pickle for a few hours, a day, or a week.
That’s all there is to it–now you have a batch of pickled fennel, at the ready. If you can resist eating the fennel, piece by piece, straight from the jar at midnight, here are a few ideas of things to do with it:
- Toss with cooked shrimp, avocado, orange slices, and green onions for a refreshing seafood salad.
- Make crostini. Top with a smear of mascarpone, piece of gravlax, and a few pieces of pickled fennel.
- Add it to chicken salad. This is especially good if you’re, say, using up the leftover breasts from a roast chicken that had lemons stuffed under the skin.
- Serve alongside rich braised meats to add a zing of acidity and bright spot. I bet it’d be really good with the ginger and raisin braised lamb shanks I made a few weeks back.
- Roast a fillet of halibut. Serve the fish over a quinoa and hearts of palm salad dressed with an orange vinaigrette. Garnish the fish with a mound of pickled fennel. I’ve made this for dinner about 3 dozen times, but somehow it hasn’t ever shown up here.
- Smash an avocado onto a piece of toasted bread, top with pickled fennel and red pepper flakes to make a tasty tartine. Now smash said tartine into your face, asap.
- Hot dog? Bratwurst? I can’t speak from experience, but why not?
- ½ tsp. Fennel Seeds, slightly crushed
- ¼ tsp. whole Cloves
- 2 c. White Vinegar
- 1 c. Water
- ½ c. Sugar
- 2 Tbsp. Kosher Salt
- a few strips Orange Peel
- 2 large bulbs Fennel, shaved on a mandoline or sliced as thinly as possible
- 1 large Shallot, shaved on a mandoline or sliced as thinly as possible
- Place the fennel seeds in a medium saucepan and toast for a moment, until you can smell the fennel. Now add the cloves, vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and orange peel. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pack the shaved fennel and shallot into a clean jars--I had enough to pack 3 pint jars. Alternatively, you can just pickle the fennel in a big bowl.
- Slowly pour the hot brine through a fine mesh sieve into the jars to completely cover the fennel. Run a chopstick or a knife down around the edges of the jar to release any air bubbles and top off with additional brine, if needed. (You might have a little extra brine, depending on how large your fennel bulbs were. I had about ¼ c. extra, but I'd rather have a little too much than have to make more on the fly.) Let the fennel cool to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely. The fennel is best if you give it a full day to pickle before digging in.