Arghh. Harumph. How many times have I started a post with those words, or at least implied them? Way too many to count I’m sure. Today’s Thomas Keller Style Glazed and Braised Fennel Bulb came about to illustrate a(nother) pet peeve of mine.
But I want you to know, it’s not that I’m difficult to please, I swear. It’s just that I don’t eat out all that much. I really don’t. So when I do pick a restaurant (high brow or low brow) I want to walk out feeling they brought their best game (no matter how simple or humble the game).
What I’m trying to say is too many times I’m disappointed with restaurants. Even damn good ones. But my disappointment doesn’t usually come from an overall bad experience, or even something a definite as bad food or bad service (usually). My disappointment often comes from the lack of detail or attention given to some small (unimportant?) element of the meal. Which I know sounds like I’m just being impossibly picky. But it’s so prevalent I just have to say something. Even in some of my favorite restaurants parts of the meal can be treated as an afterthought. The victim is usually the side dish and most always a vegetable.
Poor damn things. Vegetables are truly one of God’s greatest works of art. The perfect gift. So beware a menu that says “fresh steamed vegetables” they’re likely to disappoint. Too many times this simple side dish tastes watery. How do they get vegetables to loose so much flavor and so much texture?
In my house the traditional way to make most simple vegetable side dishes is glazed. My mother was an expert at this method. It seems such a simple preparation, and it has very few ingredients. You’d think more restaurants would teach somebody on their line how to perfect it.
But the truth is there are no shortcuts to getting this just right. You cannot simply “candy” them in a saute pan with butter and sugar, or egads– reconstituted orange juice.
But worse than steamed or overly candied vegetables are boiled vegetables. Some people simply toss God’s great gift into boiling water and hope for the best. Imagine all that flavor you are pouring down the drain. It should be a crime. In fact I’m writing a letter to the Mayor as soon as I’m finished here.
That’s because perfectly glazed vegetables are a marvel to behold. Beautiful. Shiny. Colorful. You can dress them up with many flavors, but they don’t need the extra pizzazz to be incredible. Glazing is such a tremendous technique. It’s a wonder more people don’t practice this method. GREG
- 1 clv garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 t olive oil
- 4 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered lengthwise, fronds reserved
- 1 c water, or as needed
- 1 T unsalted butter
- 1/4 t crushed red pepper
- 2 t sugar
- 1 pn kosher salt
- 1/2 t white wine vinegar
- 1/4 t freshly cracked black pepper
Choose a saucepan just large enough to loosely hold all the fennel in a single layer. Don’t add the fennel yet, instead heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Place the fennel pieces cut side down in the pan in a loose single layer. Cook until just beginning to color then turn each piece over. Add just enough water to cover them about halfway. Add butter, sugar, pepper flakes & a pinch of salt.
Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to very low. Simmer about 15 minutes until the fennel is tender and the sauce has been reduced to a syrupy glaze, then add vinegar. If the vegetables seem done before the glaze is achieved gently remove them to a plate using a slotted soon, then return them to the pan to gently reheat once the liquid has reduced to the desired consistency.
Season the vegetables with the black pepper and spoon the glaze over them to coat thoroughly. Garnish with some of the reserved fronds. Serve warm.