“Don’t let an aversion to black jelly beans keep you away from fennel.” This quote by Kris Wetherbee writing for Cooking Light had me laughing out loud.
The first time I ate raw fennel was at Bibendum in London. I know, it’s a great restaurant in an amazing historical Art Nouveau building in a beautiful part of London. But none of that could persuade me to enjoy the fennel salad sitting in front of me. Black jelly beans.
Fast-forward a decade later and I find myself regularly sauteeing fennel for the base of seafood dishes (cooking fennel makes it very mild). But am I brave enough to give raw fennel a go? Well, a Food52 contest for ‘Your Best Fennel Recipe’ was the push I needed to start experimenting. What I learned through my trials is that I definitely don’t like raw fennel on its own – for me it’s still a mouthful of black jelly beans. But, I absolutely love it when it’s drenched in fresh lemon juice, which balances (ie. tames) the liquorice flavor in the fennel.
Fennel, which is extrememly high in Vitamin C, is very popular in the Mediterranean. Using a handful of Mediterranean ingredients, I made an effortless fennel salad. The sauteed scallops go perfectly with the lemon-drenched fennel salad, complemented by the Garlic Creme on the side (‘creme’ because I use creme fraiche, not because I am trying to sound overly-sophisticated).
Fennel is in season from autumn until early spring. Grab a couple of fennel bulbs next time you see them, but don’t forget the lemons!
FENNEL AND SCALLOP SALAD WITH GARLIC CREME
(Serves 4 as an appetizer)
Garlic Creme Ingredients: (makes 1 cup)
3/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated (if you are not very keen on raw garlic, just use 1 garlic clove)
1/8 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
8 raw scallops, trimmed and ready to cook
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2 fennel bulbs (around 1 lb / 500g together)
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (you will need 1 or 2 lemons depending on their size and how juicy they are)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
- Prepare the Garlic Creme by mixing all the ingredients in a jar or small bowl. I use 2 garlic cloves to get a pronounced garlic flavor which can kick through the creme fraiche and mayonnaise, but you can use 1 garlic clove if you want to keep it more subtle. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. This can be made a day in advance.
- To prepare the fennel, first cut off the fennel stalks at the top (you can save them to flavor stocks or soups). Trim the base slightly (but not so much that the fennel separates). Cut the fennel in half lengthwise and then put the cut side of each half on the chopping board and cut it in half lengthwise again. Each fennel bulb should now be in quarters. Take a quarter and slice it across as thinly as you can. Do the same with all the other quarters of fennel.
- Place the finely sliced fennel into a bowl and add 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 4 Tbsp finely chopped parsley leaves, and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Mix well and refrigerate until ready to serve. This can be made a day in advance.
- Pan-sear the scallops just prior to serving. Put a large frying pan on high heat with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter. While the pan is heating, season your scallops with some sea salt. When the oil and butter is very hot, add the scallops to the frying pan (make sure not to crowd them), and allow them to cook on one side for 2-3 minutes. Do not turn them over too early otherwise they will not be nicely caramelized. When you can see that the golden caramelized color is starting to climb up the sides of the scallop, turn it over and caramelize it on the other side for a another 2-3 minutes (you may need to reduce the heat slightly). Remove the scallops from the pan when they are getting firm and almost cooked through as they will continue to cook off the heat.
- In four individual plates, place some fennel salad, two scallops and a dollop of Garlic Creme. Serve immediately.