Alice Zaslavsky’s one-pot fennel and honey braise recipe: with fronds like these, who needs meat?

Winter stew recipes don’t require meat. In her weekly food column, author and cook Alice Zaslavsky shares her slow-and-steady recipe for stew with vegetables.

In the winter months, our attentions and our appetites shift to cooking techniques that can be applied to kishkes (Yiddish for the guts). This means that it is time for braises and soups to sparkle.

While we typically imagine braises being a meat-based dish, you can also apply the slow and steady treatment to vegetables, with similar results as kishke-coating.

Braising is a mellow “wet” heat cooking technique that involves simmering at a low temperature with just enough liquid to fill through to the top of the principal ingredient. The goal is to soften and bring flavor to the elements within the pot, in contrast to a soup or stock in which you extract flavor by removing taste from all the components.

Braises and stews made from meat usually feature fibrous, secondary pieces of meat. While they simmer at the lowest temperature for a long time, they break down the fibers and soften to form a beautiful fork.

It is possible to apply the same principle to vegetables, too. Consider veg that is fibrous or tough that, just like other cuts of meat, can benefit from a slower simmer, a gentler cook.

These are the woody root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips, tender stalks like rhubarb and celery, and tough bulbs such as fennel. The best part is that braises made from vegetables – like the one in this recipe – can serve as hearty dishes or stand on their own as a main course.

One-pot shimmery fennel, honey, and fennel braise

Consider fennel as a three-in-one vegetable. The fronds are a great choice as a garnish for your herb or the stalks as celery when cooked in mirepoix, and the bulb is a succulent, sweet heart chopped into chunky wedges suitable for frying and cooking with a gentle touch.

Three vegetables in one: Separate the fennel stems and fronds and cut each bulb into pieces. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/Guardian Australia

In some recipes for meat braise, the meat is sprayed with flour to keep it from getting stuck to the skillet and, in addition, to stimulate the Maillard reaction, which forms an aromatic, brown crust.

I’ve adapted this method with fennel. However, the flour performs a distinct trick, which is to help thicken the sauce. After the fennel coated in flour is brushed against the hot oil and butter, the exterior becomes crispy and crisp, and it creates something similar to a cheat’s roux (the butter-and-flour mixture that is used to thicken sauces, like bechamel).

In braises made with meat, there is a combination of the gelatinous part as well as flour and oil, which are enough to make the stew thicker. This time, I’ve increased the quantity of olive oil to help with heating purposes and added butter to enhance the flavor. It’s a vegetable dish that has the same delicious viscosity as braised meat. (I’ve made use of plain flour. However, plain flour made gluten-free is great, too.)

Braised can be made using flour-dusted fennel. This assists in thickening the sauce for delicious, viscous outcomes. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/Guardian Australia

A note on salt

The recipe makes use of two saline-y suspects: preserved lemon. If you’re using a pre-made stock and then adding it to your braise, you should taste the food for spice before adding more salt since the majority of commercial stock contains large quantities. When it comes to preserved lemons, salt is the ingredient that “preserves” the sunny yellow fruit. As a result, they’re very salty. Scrape away your pith as well as the pulp using one teaspoon since these could be bitter. It’s the peel that you’re slicing in this recipe. When the preserved lemon and honey mixture is blended into the braise, taste, then finish by adding your spices.

A sweet-salty end: mixing sweetened honey, lemon juice, zest, and preserved lemon pieces along with parsley leaves. Photograph: Eugene Hyland/Guardian Australia

Serve this fennel-infused braise with soft polenta to serve as a vegetarian main course or with roast chicken or pork sausages with fennel to make a silky and supple food item.

Serves between four and six

3-4 medium bulbs of fennel (1.5kg each)
1 cup of plain flour (can be substituted with gluten-free plain or plain flour)
Olive oil used for frying
100g salted butter
One onion cut into fine slices
1/2 bunch parsley: the stems are finely chopped, and the leaves chopped (reserve some leaves in whole for garnish)
Three cloves of garlic finely chopped
500ml veggie as well as “chicken-style” stock
One lemon
One heaped tablespoon preserved lemon Peel only (from around three cheeks with flesh and pith removed) Finely chopped
One teaspoon mild-flavored honey

Remove the woody, tough bases off the fennel, making sure to leave enough flesh in the bottom to keep the wedges. As you follow the contour of the bulb of fennel, remove the stems and fronds. Put the entire bunch – the bulbs that have been trimmed and bases, the fronds, and stems into an ice-cold bowl to rehydrate them and wash away any dirt.

Cut each fennel bulb into eight wedges (this will differ based on the size of the bulb; you could receive six wedges with smaller bulbs or ten wedges for mamas with big babies). For this, cut the bulb lengthwise, then lay it cut-side down and cut it evenly with an incline, making sure to be mindful to keep each wedge in place as much as feasible. Put flour in a bowl and then toss the fennel wedges in light dusting.

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Make sure to heat the Dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid on the heat to medium, and then add a generous amount of olive oil to coat the surface of the skillet. Incorporate half of the butter and let it melt and then melt.

In batches, lay out the fennel wedges cut-side up over the top of the pan. Then cook for 5 minutes each until they are lightly golden. Try not to move the pieces too frequently. Remove them from the pan and put aside. Repeat the process with the remaining fennel, adding oil and the remainder of butter as you proceed (be cautious that you don’t burn the pan’s base, and reduce the heat if needed).

While the bulbs are snoozing, cut the stems of the fennel into discs; after the fennel wedges have been taken out of the saucepan, add the fennel stalks and onions, and cook for 8 minutes with the lid closed, making sure to stir frequently until the onion is translucent.

Add the garlic as well as the parsley stems and mix until they are well-coated. Pour into the stock, test for seasoning spa, inkle with salt and pepper as needed, and bring it to a simmer.

Incorporate the golden fennel wedges. Decrease the flame to medium-low and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes with the lid closed and stirring now and then. The braising liquid should reduce to a thicker consistency and then become beautiful and shiny, and the fennel is done when it turns translucent. It is possible to remove the layers of the stalk’s central part using the help of a spoon made from metal.

Then, make sure you zest the lemon to squeeze its juice. Within a bowl, mix lemon zest and juice, chopped parsley leaves, honey, and lemon preserved.

Take the fennel braise off the flame. Add the honey and lemon mixture and stir it into the fennel braise, allowing the flavors to blend. Test for salt and pepper, and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve with parsley fronds and fennel leaves.

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