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Sep 14, 2013 02:06 PM

Fennel bulb substitute?

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.

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  1. 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

      +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. 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: (I have not tried the substitutes).

      10 Replies
      1. re: drongo

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

        1. re: sunshine842

          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

            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

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

              1. re: sunshine842

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

          2. re: drongo

            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

              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

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

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  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

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

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

                1. 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.