When I mentioned fennel pollen in passing last week, I got quite a few requests for more information about it. I’ve come to find that some of the ingredients I use on a regular basis aren’t necessarily common, so I’ve decided to start a semi-regular feature called Ingredient Spotlight. Once a month, I’ll feature a different ingredient – what it is, where to buy it and recipe ideas. If you have any ingredients in particular that you’d like me to talk about, just let me know.
First up is fennel pollen. Fennel pollen is exactly what it sounds like – the pollen from wild fennel plants. I’ve think that raw fennel tastes very different than cooked fennel. Besides the obvious texture difference, raw fennel has a distinctive licorice flavor. When you cook fennel it gets sweet, and the licorice flavor is considerably milder. Fennel pollen tastes like cooked fennel, only sweeter with a more intense flavor. It’s quite delicious.
I bought my fennel pollen at a specialty foods store in the Bay Area. You can order it online from them, or buy it at Amazon. It’s a little pricey because it’s very labor intensive to pick, but a little goes a long way. Fennel pollen is primary used in Italian cooking, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use it elsewhere. You can use it in place of fennel seeds in quite a few recipes, although I would stick to simple preparations to let its flavor shine.
One of my favorite combinations is fennel pollen and pork. Apparently Anne Burrell and Mario Batali agree. Nancy Silverton puts fennel pollen in roasted vegetables. You could also use it on fish or chicken.
Here’s a recipe I adapted from the Campanile cookbook. The original didn’t call for fennel pollen, but I thought it would pair well with the scallops. I loved this dish – if you’re a leek fan like I am, give it a try. If you want to make this but don’t want to buy fennel pollen, just leave it out.
Scallops with fennel pollen, leeks and bacon
Adapted from the Campanile cookbook
1 ½ lbs sea scallops
2 tsp fennel pollen
4 slices of bacon, cut into ½ inch pieces
6 leeks, cleaned and lengthwise into 1-2 inch pieces
1 T grainy mustard
½ a lemon
Salt and pepper
Cook the bacon in a large pan until crisp, transfer to paper towels. Divide the bacon fat between two large pans; you should have about 1 tablespoon per pan. Drain some of the fat off if you have too much. Warm both pans over high heat. In one pan, add the leeks and turn the heat down to medium, sauté until browned and tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat down to low, and add the mustard. Cook for about 1 minute, then add the bacon and juice from the lemon.
Make sure your scallops are dry before you start. Sprinkle the scallops with the fennel pollen, salt and pepper. Sear the scallops in the other pan over high heat in a single layer for about 3 minutes. Turn the scallops to the other side and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until done. Serve the scallops over the leeks.