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Fennel bulb substitute?

jmsvss Sep 14, 2013 02:06 PM

I have my heart set on a recipe of orange roughy prepared with a sauce of fennel, onion and tomato. I searched for fennel in two different grocery stores without success. What do think a good substitute would be for the fennel bulb? The recipe calls for a low and slow sauté of the onions and fennel. I have celery and napa cabbage in my frig. What if I combine that with some fennel seeds? Any other ideas? I have never cooked with fennel before.

  1. meatn3 Sep 14, 2013 02:25 PM

    Fennel has a milder flavor than fennel seed. I'd lean toward using a little anise liquor (arak, ouzo, pastis) in the braise rather than the seeds. I would skip the celery. The napa would cook down nicely and not change the flavor too much.

    1 Reply
    1. re: meatn3
      Ttrockwood Sep 14, 2013 05:48 PM

      +1 to this solution. If you need additional veg use the cabbage since its so mild but celery is not even close and potentially weird/bad/overpowering flavor

    2. drongo Sep 14, 2013 02:28 PM

      Fennel is coming into season (in USA) so you should be able to find it. It may be called "anise" (as it is in my local supermarket).

      If you can't get it, consider the substitutions at the Cook's Thesaurus site: http://www.foodsubs.com/Stalk.html (I have not tried the substitutes).

      10 Replies
      1. re: drongo
        sunshine842 Sep 14, 2013 02:34 PM

        seriously? But it's not anise....*facepalm*

        1. re: sunshine842
          DGresh Sep 15, 2013 03:02 AM

          I've seen fennel called anise in grocery stores. Sort of like sweet potatoes being called yams, even though they're not.

          1. re: sunshine842
            calumin Sep 16, 2013 07:42 PM

            Fennel is not anise. But if you see a bulb called "anise" then it is fennel, because anise doesn't have a big edible bulb.

            Fennel seeds and anise seeds are somewhat similar, but fennel seeds are not at all a good substitute for fennel bulbs.

            1. re: calumin
              sunshine842 Sep 16, 2013 07:50 PM

              this all makes me want to cry, even if I did know all of that.

              1. re: sunshine842
                ttoommyy Sep 17, 2013 03:53 AM

                It's the same as yams and sweet potatoes, as DGresh pointed out. Please don't cry.

          2. re: drongo
            drongo Sep 15, 2013 10:23 AM

            I went to 2 supermarkets today and both had fennel bulb for sale under the name "anise". See attached pics. This is in New Jersey.

            1. re: drongo
              ttoommyy Sep 15, 2013 02:34 PM

              Nice example, @drongo. The Italian-American community here in NJ often calls fennel anise. I grew up with my family calling it this and supermarkets signinging it this way. So you can "facepalm" all you want @sunshine842, right or wrong, it is what it is.

              1. re: drongo
                ttoommyy Sep 16, 2013 12:53 PM

                Signed as "anise fennel" here in Hudson County, NJ. (And cheaper too!). :)

                1. re: ttoommyy
                  drongo Sep 16, 2013 07:33 PM

                  MUCH cheaper! I would not have expected that... given that Hudson is one of the more (maybe the most) urban counties in New Jersey. I am in Monmouth NJ.

                  1. re: drongo
                    ttoommyy Sep 17, 2013 03:51 AM

                    Would have thought it much cheaper by you. Go figure.

            2. chefj Sep 14, 2013 05:36 PM

              Celery is very similar in Texture and the way it cooks. If you like Celery you could use it but the taste is very different.
              A sprinkle of lightly toasted and ground Fennel Seed would add the Anise Flavor but as stated it is much stronger than Fennel Bulb.
              Tarragon(easy though it is also strong) or Chervil would also work well.
              Pastis and the like is also a good call.

              2 Replies
              1. re: chefj
                kseiverd Sep 15, 2013 02:56 PM

                What's pastis?

                1. re: kseiverd
                  chefj Sep 15, 2013 02:57 PM


              2. westsidegal Sep 14, 2013 06:33 PM

                in what part of the world/country are you located?

                1. bobabear Sep 14, 2013 11:51 PM

                  In this case, it sounds like the fennel flavor is going to be mild after a slow saute, so perhaps sub it with celery and some Pastis of some sort. If it called for 1 medium bulb of fennel, I might suggest 1/4 cup Pastis to deglaze the pan during the onion saute.

                  1. ttoommyy Sep 15, 2013 05:55 AM

                    I would just double up on the onions and add a 1/2 teaspoon of the fennel seeds. The cabbage will lend a flavor that for me just does not fit this recipe. As for the celery, that would be fine, but it too can have an assertive flavor. Long cooked fennel is very mild and when cooked like this with onions pretty much melds into the onions, both becoming sweet.

                    1. t
                      treb Sep 15, 2013 12:12 PM

                      Some stores call it anise. Ask your super market produce person.

                      1. sunshine842 Sep 15, 2013 03:57 PM

                        All of this being said...I would wait until you can find fennel...I can't think of anything else that would give you the combination of taste and texture.

                        1. Bada Bing Sep 17, 2013 05:21 AM

                          Fennel should be findable. But lacking that--or even for a what-the-heck sub--you might consider using leeks and adding an early and a late splash of anise liquor, such as meatn3 indicates (but you could add Pernod to the list of eligible liquors--yum).

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