Fennel adds a complex anise (licorice-like) flavor and crunch to many dishes. See how to chop a fennel bulb to use in soups, salads, stir-fries, pot roasts, and other recipes to bring the unique fennel flavor to your table.
People who've never cooked with fennel bulbs may think this vegetable looks like it came from another planet. The round bulb with feathery stalks growing out of it is unique for sure. Don't worry, it's easier to deal with than it looks, as long as you've got a sharp chef's knife handy. We'll go through how to cut fennel (including removing the stems, chopping the fennel bulb, and coring a fennel bulb) so you can tackle prepping this veggie with confidence the next time you make a fennel salad or a side dish starring the veggie.
How to Choose and Store Fennel
With its wispy fronds and bulbous base, fennel looks like a feather-topped, potbellied cousin to celery. But its flavor is remarkably different. The white bulb and bright green fronds have a gentle, slightly sweet anise flavor. The stalks are tough so they're usually not eaten.
- In many regions, fennel is available year-round; however, its peak season is October through April.
- Look for crisp, clean bulbs without brown spots or blemishes. The wispy fronds on top should be bright green and fresh-looking.
- Once home, refrigerate fennel, tightly wrapped, up to 5 days.
Remove the Stalks from Fennel
Chopping a fennel bulb is simple once you know where to make the first cut. Follow these steps.
- Place the fennel horizontally on a cutting surface. Using a sharp chef's knife, like the Farberware 8-Inch Chef Knife ($16, Target), carefully cut about 1 inch above the fennel bulb to remove the stalks.
- Cut a few of the bright green fronds from the stalks to save as a garnish for your recipe. To keep the fronds fresh while the dish cooks, rinse them in cool tap water. Pat them dry, then wrap in plastic wrap or place in a resealable plastic storage bag until ready to use.
Cut Off the Root End
Before you get started slicing and dicing the fennel bulb, remove the root end. Make sure you have a sturdy cutting board such as these (Architec 2-Pack Wood Cutting Boards, $30, Bed Bath & Beyond) to work on, then get started:
- Remove and discard any wilted outer layers.
- Holding the top of the fennel bulb to steady it and using a sharp knife, cut a thin slice off the root end of the fennel bulb. Discard the root.
How to Cut Fennel Bulbs
Once you've removed the root end and any wilted layers, it's time to start chopping fennel.
- Wash the fennel under cool tap water. Pat dry.
- Stand the fennel bulb upright on its root end. Steadying the bulb with one hand, cut the bulb in half from the stalk end through the root end.
How to Chop or Wedge Fennel
Follow the instructions given in your recipe about whether to chop or slice the fennel. If no specific instructions are given and the recipe calls for fennel chopped, sliced, or cut into wedges, follow these instructions.
How to Chop Fennel:
Cut each fennel half in half again to get quarters. Cut away and discard the tough core portion from each quarter. Then cut the fennel quarters into irregular pieces as follows:
- For finely chopped fennel, cut ⅛-inch pieces or smaller.
- For medium-size chopped fennel, cut ¼-inch pieces or smaller.
- For coarsely chopped fennel, cut ¼-inch pieces or larger.
How to Cut Fennel Wedges:
Cutting fennel into wedges makes for lovely presentation on salads and other dishes that don't require cooking. It's also a nice way to cut fennel for cooked recipes to get bigger punches of fennel flavor.
- Cut each fennel half in half again to get quarters.
- Cut away and discard the tough core portion from each quarter.
- Slice the fennel lengthwise into wedges.
How to Slice Fennel
Some recipes call for thiner slices of fennel so you get a little in each bite. Here's the best way to slice a fennel bulb.
- Remove the tough core from the fennel half by cutting a wedge-shape piece from the top of the core through the bottom. Discard the core.
- Place the bulb half, cut side down, on a cutting surface.
- Using a chef's knife, slice the bulb lengthwise into thin strips.
When you want to bring an anise-like flavor and crisp crunch to a recipe, use fennel much like you would celery. Try it chopped or sliced in soups like our Garlicky Potato Apple Soup or served raw in this Spring Salad with Grapefruit & Feta, and it's fantastic wedged and cooked with roasts such as this Fennel Pot Roast. Remember, if you do add fennel to a recipe, save a few of the fronds to sprinkle on top for a garnish.