Fennel is not something I buy often, but the bulb I had in the fridge was fairly large, and very intensely flavoured. I had already used half of it to make a salad...thinly sliced fennel with grapefruit segments and juice, as well as some ground black pepper. This was very refreshing, but I still had half of the fennel bulb to use.
An apple that was a bit on the soft side prompted this meal; apples and pork make a great combination; caramelizing the apple along with the fennel made a delicious compote to serve with the pork, adding sweetness and that hint of licorice that comes with fennel.
Season the pork chops with salt and pepper.
I was using boneless sirloin chops.
In a hot pan, with a drizzle of olive oil, quickly brown both sides of the meat. Remove the chops from the pan and place into an ovenproof dish.
Finish cooking the meat in the oven, at 350F while you make the compote.
1/2 large fennel bulb
Using the pan that was used to brown the pork, heat a bit of olive oil and add the fennel.
Cook over a medium heat, stirring often to prevent burning.
When the fennel is starting to soften, add the sliced apple to the pan.
Season lightly with black pepper.
Continue to cook over medium heat until the apple and fennel start to colour, stirring often.
When the apple and fennel start to caramelize, add:
3/4 cup apple juice, 1/4 cup at a time.
Continue to cook until both the fennel and the apples are soft and have become a deep caramel colour.
Taste and adjust more seasoning. I added only black pepper.
When the pork is cooked allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving, accompanied by the fennel and apple compote. I also served some scalloped potatoes and green beans, asparagus and snap peas.
- Thinly sliced onion can be used instead of fennel; add some crushed fennel seeds to achieve the licorice flavour that the fennel bulb would give.
- Apple brandy or cider can be used for the first 1/4 cup of apple juice.
- There is no need to add sugar as the natural sugars in both the apples and fennel are more than enough. If you do want to add more sweetness, use a bit of maple syrup, honey or brown sugar.
- Vanilla can be added to the compote; cinnamon, ginger, cloves or star anise can also be added. Use only small amounts of these so that the flavour of the fennel is not hidden.
- To turn the compote into a chutney, add some vinegar...apple cider is a good choice. Some dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries or cherries will add additional sweetness and texture; spices such as cinnamon or ginger, and chili flakes will add depth and heat; minced onion should also be added.
- The compote can be cooked a day or two ahead.
- Other meats that can be used with the fennel and apple include chicken breasts, pork sausage, fish such as halibut or tuna, veal or game such as duck or venison.
- An alternative to cooking the meat and compote separately is to sear the meat and then place it on top of the thinly sliced apples and fennel and roast it. This will transfer the sweetness from the apples, and the licorice from the fennel into the meat as it cooks. This works best for larger cuts of meat that need to cook for a longer time.