Pickled Fennel

I’ve wanted to join a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, for a number of years now but have managed to come up with a handful of reasons why I have not: travel, time, and waste.  Of all the reasons, waste is my biggest concern.  A typical CSA share is designed for a family of four, a half share, for two.  I live alone.  That’s a lot of veg!

My friend, Roseanne, who lives outside of Philly, has a small garden in addition to a half share in a CSA.  That’s some serious veg!  What does one person do with all those extra vegetables?  Thanking her frugal Italian grandma who taught Roseanne never to waste a thing, she pickles, a lot.  I remember her commenting a few summers back that she received so many radishes they were coming out of her…

If that quote is inaccurate, it’s only because I have the wrong vegetable.

We often don’t think of pickling as a cooking technique, but we should, consider it vegetable ceviche!  Both techniques, ceviche and pickling require adding an acid to the product whether is it fish or vegetable.  Okay, the chemical reaction after that is completely different, but it has a nice ring to it.  The McGee police will tell you, in ceviche, the acid denatures and coagulates the proteins, whereas, in pickling, acetic acid inhibits the growth of  spoilage microbes.  Sure, but I still pour an acid onto the food…

In the Momofuku cookbook, David Chang suggests that pickling should be considered the sixth cooking technique.  Whatever number you want to assign to it, pickling is too simple, versatile, and delicious to ignore.  I’m willing to bet it appears in the upcoming “20 Techniques” by Michael Ruhlman.  I tried to get a preview of the twenty techniques through a twitter request and received this response:

ruhlman   @ChrisDeNoia the 20 techniques are kept in a vault in langley.


Feel free to guess the 20 techniques in the comments.  My sister and I have some discrepancies.


It’s a perfect time to learn how to pickle.  The spring vegetables are in and the bounty will be plentiful.  Fennel is an underutilized vegetables in most kitchens.  The lovely anise tones always remind me of munching on the black candy licorice stalks as a child, sipping Sambuca as an adult, and, more recently, absinthe (the non hallucinogenic versions on the market and in Montreal).  I also appreciate the full use of fennel the flowers make a beautiful herb and garnish.

Mandolines are a wonderful device…
The mise en place for pickling:

Pack all the fennel in and pour!

Drop it in the fridge overnight.  Those are Asian pears underneath.

The fennel and Asian pears were originally destined for oysters.  The pears never made it.  I kept snacking on them with plenty of fresh cracked black pepper, they were gone before you knew it.  The fennel made a great snack as well and didn’t see an oyster either.

There will be another time and oyster party in the future.  Maybe in the fall or next couple weeks.  I grew up when restaurants only served oysters in months that had an “r”.  Quicker shipping and better technology may have eliminated that need, but it puts a little seasonality into eating oysters.

Looking at all the different kinds of pickles you could make, it made me think of all the wonderful “plate” courses: pickles, charcuterie, and cheese.  Slipping these plates into an evening meal would turn a typical three course meal into six courses with no additional effort in that evenings cooking.  Hmmm….

The simplicity of pickling for the first time will encourage anyone use this technique as a regular part of the cooking repertoire.  I’m looking forward to the fall for hot chili season already!

Also, if anyone can recommend a quality CSA in NYC, I might be interested this year.


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