I could happily eat just about any combination of fennel and citrus every single day of the week, forever. This dish ticks every box of flavour explosion with the elegant sweet undertones dressed with tang and delicate acidity. Not to mention that it’s almost too beautiful to eat........almost.......
I urge you to use blood oranges or pink cara cara oranges when they are in season. I adore them and believe they should be used prolifically on everything when you can, but oranges and pink grapefruit are also wonderful here.
This is basically the perfect side for just about anything, any time and is just as delicious at room temperature for easy gatherings. The greatest challenge with this fennel is not to eat it all straight out the pan before it reaches the table.
2 blood oranges or 1 pink grapefruit
1 large fennel or 1 1/2 smaller bulbs, with fonds if possible (for garnish) 2 1/2 tbsp salted butter, divided
1/2 tbsp honey (preferably orange blossom)
1 tsp salt
a few thyme sprigs
180ml Vermouth, white wine or stock of choice
1 tbsp capers, drained
reserved fennel fonds or dill for garnish
Start by prepping the citrus. Using a knife, peel away the skin and pith. Holding the peeled oranges over a strainer over a bowl, segment them by cutting between the membranes. Place each segment in the strainer and allow any extra juice to drain into the bowl. (Also useful for catching any unwanted pips). Squeeze the leftover membranes over the strainer so as not to waste a drop of the precious juice and reserve it all for later.
Cut the fennel into wedges a couple of centimetres thick. I slice them in half lengthways, remove the core and then cut each half into 4-6 equal-ish wedges, depending on the fennel size. You should have between 10 and 12 wedges all together.
Place a large sauté or rondeau pan with a tight fitting lid onto a medium heat and add 2 tbsp of the butter. This seems generous, but its completely worth it....
Allow the butter to melt and slightly foam and then squeeze in the honey. Swirl them together until they are amalgamated and add the fennel wedges to the pan in a single layer. I like to lay them fanned out in a circle for appearance purposes, but place them however they fit best in your pan.
Sprinkle with salt and scatter over the thyme sprigs, allowing some to fall into the hot butter and crackle.
Cook for 6-8 minutes until golden brown on the underside. Try not to fuss too much and just let them gently bronze and melt into the sweet butter.
Turn the fennel pieces over (I use 2 dinner forks here because it reduces klutziness), pour over the reserved citrus juice and the vermouth/stock. Allow any alcohol to bubble away for a minute or so, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Simmer for 12-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fry up the capers. Melt the remaining 1/2 tbsp butter in a small frying pan over a medium heat until starting to foam. Pat the capers dry capers and toss in the butter, toasting them until they open up a little, develop a little golden crisp exterior and are wonderfully fragrant. Remove from the heat and drain on a piece of kitchen towel, ready to sprinkle on the finished dish.
Once the fennel has had a little simmer time and the liquid has almost all evaporated, add 50-80ml of water to create a lovely jus in the bottom of the pan. Turn the fennel in the sauce for another couple of minutes until very tender and remove from the heat.
You can either transfer the fennel and the unctuous jus to a platter, or serve it straight out of the pan. Top with the reserved citrus segments, capers and fennel fonds or dill.