Finding fault with fennel isn't an option when you taste this delicious dish
I am often fascinated by the kinds of foods and flavors that some people may love while others refuse to eat them. We call such ingredients "acquired tastes," because those who love them optimistically believe that, prepared properly and served under the right circumstances, anyone can develop a craving for them.
Not every taste, of course, can be acquired that way. I doubt, for example, that repeated exposure probably won't win many converts to certain exceedingly smelly foods along the lines of Limburger cheese from northwestern Germany, or the Southeast Asian fruit called durian, which has an odor politely compared to dirty socks.
Other acquired tastes, however, are not only far less assertive but also pleasant and can easily win over converts simply through the right kind of introduction. Take fennel bulb, for example, which is at its peak of season right now and can be found in farmers' market stalls and well-stock supermarkets alike.
Also known as Florence fennel or by the Italian finocchio, this vegetable is actually a member of the carrot family. But, rather than being slender and usually orange, white and pale-green fennel roots are bulbous, almost heart-shaped, and they're distinguished by a flavor most people consider very similar to licorice.
And that's where the challenge comes in. Most people think of licorice as a flavor for candy, and even that candy itself is an acquired taste. So why would you want to eat it as part of a savory preparation?
The answer is that, when properly cooked, fennel develops a satisfying, deeply savory sweetness as appealing as that of caramelized onions. And its sweet perfume, also found in another variety of fennel prized as an herb for its feathery green fronds, also found on fennel bulb, makes a wonderfully bright seasoning for certain light and savory ingredients like seafood or chicken.
For proof of that fact, I'd like to share one of my longtime favorite recipes for an impressive yet simple main course: roast rock cod with fennel and beurre blanc. Though it starts with a whole fresh fish (which you should ask your seafood shop or supermarket department to clean and scale for you), it's surprisingly easy to prepare, and cooks in just around half an hour. But that's enough time for the two fennel bulbs in the recipe to give the mild-tasting fish a wonderful aroma and flavor, while also forming a delicious vegetable side along with the potatoes, onions and tomatoes combined with it in the roasting pan.
The result is a dish that will have everyone you serve it to asking, "What is that beautiful, delicate flavor?" And you'll have succeeded in gaining new fans for the easily acquired taste of fennel.
ROAST ROCK COD WITH FENNEL AND BEURRE BLANC
Serves 4 to 6