This week's recipe starts with fennel, a vegetable that I have a love-hate relationship with. For years, I avoided fennel because everyone said it tasted like licorice. I've always loved fennel seeds, though, in Italian food.
But still, I was the kid who would trade the black jelly beans for any other color. It took me a while to get used to the idea that sweet licorice is not the same as savory licorice flavors like star anise. So one day I bought some fennel and bravely decided to give it a try.
What I found out was the cooked fennel is nothing like licorice candy. The flavor becomes much more subtle. The texture is like cooked celery, and the flavor becomes sweet like onions, but there's another flavor in the background that makes it more interesting than either one.
The fennel needed some vegetable friends, though, and I decided that some zucchini would add some nice dark green while red bell peppers would add a pop of color. Okay, I had the base of my dish, but I still needed the main component.
After cruising the meat department, I ended up looking at seafood and decided that salmon would give me the perfect pop of color on top of my fennel. I left it in the experts' hands. What kind of salmon would be best on the grill?
Salmon steaks, of course. Big, meaty salmon steaks hold together better on the grill than fillets, which can be a little more delicate. I've grilled fillets, and most of the time I don't have too many problems. But when you need perfect presentation, steaks are just a little easier to work with.
Salmon Steaks on Braised Fennel
2 large salmon steaks
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the fennel:
1 fennel bulb
1 small zucchini
1/2 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 - 1 cup water, stock, white wine (or see other suggestions)
Bring the salmon steaks out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking to allow then to come to room temperature (this isn't essential, but you'll get more even cooking). Drizzle with soy sauce and olive oil, and rub into the salmon steaks. The soy provides the salt, but your salmon won't taste like soy sauce with this small amount. You won't even notice it.
Remove the green parts from the fennel and remove any discolored/dented bits. Quarter the bulb, remove the core, and slice into 1/8 inch slices.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat and add the fennel. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: if you're using stock for the liquid and it has added salt, skip the salt until later.
Cook, stirring frequently, until the fennel becomes a bit translucent. It's fine if a few of them get browned, but you're not looking to caramelize them. Add about 1/2 cup of your chosen liquid. If you don't have stock or wine, adding a couple teaspoons of lemon juice along with the water will give a good boost of flavor.
Cover the pan and cook until the fennel is just about done, then add the peppers and zucchini and continue cooking uncovered, stirring as needed, until the vegetables are cooked and the moisture has evaporated.
When the fish releases easily from the grill, flip it over and cook on the second side. Cook until it reaches your desired doneness.
Serve the salmon on top of the fennel.