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Fennel is a sharply sweet root vegetable with a leafy green top. It tastes a bit like black licorice, though roasting it often enhances the sweetness and makes its sharp flavors more subtle. Many cooks love to use fennel to make sauce, especially when they’re serving mild proteins like chicken, fish, and pork. Most fennel sauce recipes are relatively versatile because it can be combined with a number of flavors. Cooks may combine it with capers and olives to provide a salty-sweet flavor combination, or bring out its sweetness with acids like tomatoes. Other recipes may even call for spices that turn fennel sauce into a condiment for desserts.
Most fennel sauce recipes start with a bulb or two of chopped fennel, shallots or chives, and butter. The fennel and shallots or chives are usually browned together in a pan before the cook adds some white wine or chicken broth for deglazing. This step is typically where the sauce takes on its main flavors. Chopped cherry, grape, or Roma tomatoes can go into the pan at this point, along with a soft cheese or a mixture of cornstarch and cream. Rosemary, tarragon, thyme, and dill may also be added to the sauce, along with salt and pepper.
The above tomato-infused sauce might also taste wonderful with a few cloves of crushed garlic added to it. Cooks using cheese to make the sauce creamy may choose cream cheese, mascarpone, or brie with the rind removed. Once hot and creamy, this particular fennel sauce recipe could be the final touch to grilled lemon chicken, rosemary potatoes, spicy pork, flounder, or tilapia.
Those who like the combination of salty and sweet flavors may choose to replace the tomatoes with capers, green olives, and Italian pickled vegetable salad. The additional ingredients should typically be chopped and added to the pan before the cook adds the liquid or cheese. This fennel sauce recipe would probably taste delicious with a cheese base, but cooks might also try a white wine and cream reduction. Saltier fennel sauce could be delicious on herb-crusted pork, salmon, or pasta.
Sweeter fennel sauce recipes may be served with mild proteins as an entrée or as a topping for a dessert. The addition of a little lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and cinnamon or nutmeg usually brings out the sugary flavors in the fennel, making it a good pairing for crab or lobster. When chilled, this sauce could be delicious on a cold pasta primavera dish, or over a seafood and rice combination. Omitting savory spices and adding cinnamon and sugar could create a fennel sauce that might taste good on a dense chocolate cake or drizzled over raw fruit.