When was the last time you had a root beer? Last year? A few years ago? When you were a kid? Although we both loved root beer as children, neither one of us could remember the last time we’d enjoyed a cold glass of root beer. Maybe it’s because most root beers today are made with corn syrup and artificial flavors. They’re just not that special. They certainly don’t resemble the original American root beers, which were brewed by farmers using a complex recipe of fragrant herbs.
Recently, during a trip to North Carolina, we discovered an amazing, small batch Root Beer called Uncle Scott’s. It’s micro-brewed using traditional ingredients, and we became infatuated. Like a great dish, could actually taste the individual ingredients that made up Uncle Scott’s brew. Anise…cinnamon…vanilla…licorice. Which got us thinking. Since we use most of those ingredients in cooking anyway, why don’t we cook with Root Beer?
For our first experiment we chose fennel. With anise being such a prominent flavor in root beer, we decide to pull together even more of an already great thing. The combination of the root beer sauce, with fennel bulbs, with toasted fennel seeds, with chopped fennel leaves came together as an amazing, creamy, complex, braised side dish that popped with bright licorice flavors. Follow along with our step-by-step photos as we make this memorable side. (Full recipe at bottom of post.)
First we toasted the fennel seeds in a dry skillet. (We use the same one we’ll be braising in later. Cuz we’re lazy like that.)
Use 2 large bulbs, or three medium ones…
Chop some of the finest leaves towards the top and set aside to use as a final garnish. (If you don’t want to discard the rest of the greens, simmer them into a stock to make a creamy fennel soup later.)
Depending on the size of your fennel bulbs, chop them into quarters or eighths.
Before we braise them, caramelize them on each flat side.
Be careful not to burn them. Burnt licorice flavor is completely overwhelming.
You should probably also be drinking a cold glass of root beer while making this dish.
Add the root beer first to help deglaze the pan.
Then add enough vegetable or chicken stock to almost cover the fennel wedges.
Once covered and braised for nearly half an hour, the fennel wedges will be beautifully softened.
Remove the wedges to a serving platter
Reduce the remaining braising liquid by half over high heat.
Once reduced, stir in the heavy cream.
Before serving, garnish with the toasted fennel seeds and chopped leaves. (And may we suggest a root beer float for dessert?)
Prep time: 7 Min
Cook time: 30 Min
Total time: 37 Min
- 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
- 2 large fennel bulbs, tops trimmed and cut into eight wedges. (reserve some top fennel leaves for chopped garnish.)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- One 12 oz bottle of good quality Root Beer (1 ½ cups)
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup chopped fennel leaves
Heat fennel seeds in 12″ heavy skillet over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted. (2-3 minutes.) Be careful not to burn. Once toasted, immediately transfer seeds to small bowl.
Add the olive oil and garlic to the skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add fennel wedges. Sauté for approximate 2 minutes until browned, then flip carefully with tongs and brown the other side. Once fennel is caramelized, add root beer and salt, and gently stir to de-glaze the pan. Add stock until fennel is ¾ covered. Cover and lower heat.
Gently simmer for 20-25 minutes until fennel is fully softened. Transfer fennel wedges to serving platter. Raise heat to high, and simmer until stock/rootbeer mixture is reduced by half. (2-4 minutes.) Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream.
Pour sauce over fennel, garnish with toasted fennel seeds and chopped fennel leaves, and serve immediately.