Stew Sensation

Fennel stars in this awesome stew.

This is without a doubt one of the best stews ever.

Since it was published four years ago in Gourmet magazine, I’ve made this “Braised Pork with Orange and Fennel” at least annually, if not twice or thrice a winter. It’s the one stew I can’t wait to make once the weather turns the least bit chilly.

Moreover, it’s the stew that created a sensation when I wrote about it a year or so ago in the San Jose Mercury News Food section. Readers wrote to tell me how much they loved the flavors of orange zest, fresh ginger, soy sauce, cinnamon, and anise seeds. A friend even recalled that women friends at her gym were all gabbing non-stop about how divine the dish was.

Who can blame them? The pork shoulder cubes cook up tender alongside slices of fennel in a sauce that’s hauntingly part Asian and part Italian. Serve it over plain steamed rice or, as I do, over soft, spoonable polenta cooked with plenty of Parmigiana.

The presentation is pure rustic comfort. The taste is a savory sensation. It’s homey enough for family; chic enough for company. And it’s a straightforward recipe that cooks up mostly unattended, so it can be easily whipped together even on a weeknight if you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands.

I’ve already made it once this winter. Try it, and there’s no doubt, you’ll be making it again and again, too.

Braised Pork with Orange and Fennel

(serves 6)

1 (1 1/2-inch piece) cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon anise seeds

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, smashed

4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices peeled fresh ginger, smashed

2 (4-by-1-inch) strips fresh orange zest (or if you like orange as I do, use the zest from one entire orange)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup Chinese rice wine or medium-dry sherry

2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

3 fennel bulbs, stalks cut off and discarded, then bulbs sliced lengthwise 1/4-inch thick

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Put oven rack in lower third of oven, and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap cinnamon stick and anise seeds in a small square of cheesecloth and tie bundle closed with string. Pat pork dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a deep 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown pork in 3 batches, turning, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to a bowl as browned.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot and cook onion and garlic over moderate heat, stirring until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add ginger, zest, and sugar, and cook, stirring 1 minute. Stir in soy sauce, rice wine, broth, pork with any accumulated juices, and cheesecloth bag. Braise mixture, covered, in oven 1 hour.

Stir in fennel and braise, covered, in oven until fennel is very tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Discard cheesecloth bag, then season pork mixture with salt and pepper, and stir in cilantro.

Note: Braised pork and fennel (without cilantro) can be made 1 day ahead and cooked completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat on top of stove, then stir in cilantro. The stew also freezes well.

From Gourmet, January 2004

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  • Yum, I love fennel and your huge photo of it really caught my eye! πŸ˜‰ I also like citrus during the winter season, do you think adding a bit of orange juice in the braise would be nice for the pork or would that just over do it? I might have to try this soon!

  • Hi Carolyn,
    Can the anise seed be substituted by star anise? If yes, approximately how many stars or perhaps how many segments will be required?


  • Tuty, I would think star anise would be a very nice addition to this stew, especially given its Asian flavors to begin with. Maybe try 3 whole star anise and see how that works.

    Single Guy Chef, a bit of fresh OJ also might be nice. The braise as it is has a very nice balance already. But if you wanted to add some OJ, maybe start with 1/4 cup and taste to see if you think it needs more.

    Hope you guys like this dish as much as I do. It’s one of those tastes you just can’t get enough of.

  • Yowza! I turn my head to other tasks for a day or two (it’s called putting the house back together after the holidays!) and here you are with two amazing-sounding new recipes. Make-ahead curry sauce? Yes! And this one…Carolyn, I’ve been cooking long enough that I think I have developed a pretty good feel for new recipes that are sure to go into the “keeper” pile. This is definitely one of them. I’ve never really known what to do with a fennel bulb, but this is clearly the place for me to start. Shopping list being prepared as we speak, and I shall report back on the results next week sometime.

  • This would definitely go well with lamb. I wonder how it would do with oxtail? πŸ˜‰

  • Actually, I could see this braising liquid going quite well with oxtail! Must try it next time.

  • Yum. I know what I am making this weekend.

    Star anise sounds like a great idea.

  • Fennel and orange must be the best thing together. We just made a roast lamb with orange zest and fennel seeds. I’m bookmarking this to try soon. Thanks for the lovely recipe.

  • I’m with you and Annie – Fennel and Orange are wondeful together. I also love a shaved salad with Fennel, celery and supremes of orange, bergamot olive oil or Pasolivo tangerine…I’ve got some shaved fennel marinating on a huge pork shoulder right now (also garlic, oregano, meyer lemon – had a few shaves of it so threw it in.)

    I also use fennel in thin slices with fish en papillote. I save the green stalk part for stocks.

  • Guess what’s in the oven RIGHT NOW? πŸ™‚

  • Moe, I’ll be right over with my own fork. heeheee

  • This was great!! Nice blend of flavors.

    A couple of changes. First, I omitted the broth and the soy sauce, added some wine, and think it was better with less liquid.

    Second, I included some root vegetables (parsnip, carrot, etc.) and diluted the seasonings. I would amp up all the seasonings next time, to compensate for that change.

    And I really like the idea of star anise.

    One suggestion: Instead of the cloth bag for the seasonings, I used a tea ball.

  • Moe: Glad you liked the stew so much. Interesting that you left out the soy sauce, as I think that’s one component that I thought really gave the dish a lot of depth. But maybe that’s my Asian heritage speaking.

    The tea ball is a great idea. I also sometimes just use a coffee filter tied up with twine.

  • This was excellent, praised by all my guests! I thought it was perfect with low-sodium soy. I used 1 star anise.

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