Smackdown: Mikey Doesn't So Much Love It


I have a hate-hate relationship with fennel.


At least, I think I do. I mean, I definitely know that I hate raw fennel, but I’m less sure about cooked fennel. After all, I like cooked things that have fennel in them – bouillabaisse, this quick fish stew…okay, that’s about it. I like two fish-based things that involve fennel, and it’s unclear whether I like them because of the fennel or in spite of it.

So I decided to go balls to the wall with cooked fennel to see how I feel about it once and for all: fennel soup with herb puree from David Tanis’s Heart of the Artichoke. It’s all fennel, all the time. It is the Ultimate Fennel Test.


You’d think I’d like fennel, especially raw, having grown up with an Italian mother who liked nothing more than to end a meal by gnawing on fresh fennel. Alas, my dislike of raw fennel is one more reason I’m a bad Italian (see also reasons #1: I don’t like olives, #2: I don’t like tomatoes, and #3 I don’t respect the authority of the Holy See). It’s a food memory I wish I could share, but it is not to be.

For the soup, I dutifully hacked up a couple of bulbs of fennel, reserving the fronds for the herb puree, and sauteed them in olive oil with a big honking onion and several cloves of garlic. When the veg was just soft and starting to color, I added some long grain white rice (which helps to thicken the final product) and chicken stock and left it to simmer until everything was tender and my apartment smelled like the inside of the fennel factory.


While it simmered, I threw together the herb puree: fennel fronds, basil, parsley, scallions and olive oil. I might have gotten a little cranky with the blender, which was not pureeing to my satisfaction, and jabbed at it with my spatula while it was running, nearly creating a silicon-herb puree. Luckily, Brian was much less cranky than I and was able to coerce the blender into doing its blenderly job without poisoning us all with spatula particulate.

smooth and creamy

When the soup was done, it too got a ride through the blender before being passed through a mesh strainer for Total Soup Smoothness. I always feel very chefferly when passing purees through a fine mesh strainer, as if it’s some mystical step that only the inducted chefs know to take. You know, or someone who’s read The French Laundry cookbook. Although if I were really listening to The French Laundry I would have run it through a succession of seventeen sieves of ever-finer gradation until it was as smooth as pureed angel wings.

soup's on

I plated up my finished soup, added a spoonful of herb puree, drizzled over some olive oil for good measure, and made some goat cheese toasts that were mentioned nowhere in the recipe but I thought they’d be good. Then I realized I wasn’t hungry in the least, so I gave the bowl to Brian.

soup's on

I did taste it, though, in the interest of scientific inquiry and finally getting an answer to The Fennel Question.

And that answer is: Meh.

Brian the fennel-lover, waxing rhapsodic, proclaimed this soup to be like a bowl of springtime. “It tastes like green!” he exclaimed. “I like it even more than the broccoli soup!” Which instantly put me on high alert, because that broccoli soup? Is the bomb diggity.

I tasted the soup (with the puree) and was left cold. I didn’t instantly dislike it, and if I’d been hungry I’d probably have kept eating it, but I didn’t exactly like it either. And it was certainly no broccoli soup; that’s just crazy talk. What it was was very, very fennelly, with a nice body and mouthfeel from the cooked, pureed rice. The herb puree was like a light pesto; it turned the soup a bright pea-green color when stirred in and added to the springtime flavor.

Anyway, I tried with the fennel, I really did. But it’s just not for me. What have you tried and failed to like?

25 thoughts on “Smackdown: Mikey Doesn't So Much Love It

  1. Have you tried roasted fennel? It takes on a distinctly different, sweet character when it’s roasted. I love it in all forms, so it’s hard to judge if a fennel non-fan would like it, but it’s worth a shot.

  2. I haven’t really tried fennel on it’s own, only in bouillabaisse, so I don’t know how I’d like this soup. My personal food nemesis is the olive. I love cooking with olive oil, but no matter what type of cured olive I try, I just can’t find one that I even remotely like. There are so many dishes I’d love to try making, but if olives are an integral part of the recipe, I shy away.

  3. Tried durian and almost had to spit it out. People wax poetic about it, but it smells like a dirty foot (really) and has the consistency of…something gross. No, thanks.

  4. I like almost all the brassica out there, and I’ve had brussels sprouts cooked in ways that I recognize as being highly skilled and technially good stuff, but I just am not fond of them.

  5. I used to try olives and mushrooms once a year, but I am in my 50s now, and it ain’t gonna happen. I do make things with them that are well received, but I always make a big stink (heh) about it when I cook mushrooms for my husband. It literally makes me gag, just like that sauerkraut I put on his Reuben last night. And yeah, I am a bad Polish girl because I cannot abide cabbage in any form.

  6. Mushrooms. I’ve never been able to eat them, not even as a child.

    But everyone cooks with them, so I continue to try them at least once a year in the hopes that, one day, I too can jump on the mushroom bandwagon. No luck yet.

    …except for that mushroom soup I once had at Eleven Madison Park. ***Random sidebar*** That is totally my next blog post. Thank you!

  7. Lamb…tried it as a kid under duress and much protesting and just didn’t like it. Now as an adult who enjoys food and cooking I figured with all the celebrity chefs making and raving about their lamb dishes that I HAD to revisit it. Nope, still don’t like it! I put it in a lovely balsamic, dijon, garlicky marinade and the grilled crust was awesome but once I got into the meat, not so awesome!

  8. I agree with the mushroom dislike. They taste like mould to me. Not appealing in the least.

    And fish (any seafood product, really) makes me projectile vomit. I don’t even try anymore.

    Also, I kind of hate sweet peppers. I can eat them, I just don’t really see the point. I want my peppers hot.

  9. Don’t like: Raw onion. Green bell peppers. Raw peppers in any form except chopped up in salsa. Lamb, except for the ground variety in shashlik or moussaka. Not crazy about fennel flavor, although the seeds are all I’ve tried; a little is OK, a lot is off-putting. Love sashimi, as long as it’s not raw shellfish (except shrimp). Most anything else is in-bounds.

  10. green peppers and raw celery. I just can’t get behind those two veggies. Altho I have progressed and stopped picking the bits of cooked celery out of soups so I guess that’s something.

  11. Venison = too gamey. I’ve had friends try to hide ground venison in chili, but they don’t fool me.
    goat cheese = disgusting, and I am a lover of almost all cheeses
    lamb = just don’t like it. My mom used to make me eat it once a year at Easter, but now that I’m a big girl on my own, I never have to eat it ever again.

  12. I secretly can’t really deal with haggis. I thought I could, the first time I had it – I was like “this isn’t so bad!” and then felt very sketchy all day, but I assumed it was because of eating greasy food on a nearly empty stomach after being up all night. But then I tried haggis again under totally normal conditions, and same results. I guess I just can’t do it. I’ll continue to pretend I can. It embarrasses me that I can’t, particularly since my UNBELIEVABLY PICKY husband thinks it’s just fine.

    I mean, there are plenty of things I just can’t abide (like cilantro, high five, Kate C), but it’s not so much that I’ve tried to like them and failed. I’ve just accepted from the get-go that I don’t like them.

  13. i don’t like licorice flavour so fennel, anise, ouzo and the like are not things i choose to eat. i also don’t like lamb, most blue and green cheeses (but i like stilton) and thus far, caviar. i try them once in a while to make sure i still don’t like them. after all, i also used to dislike mushrooms, garlic, black pepper, onions, green pepper, sushi, and a host of other things. i just kept trying them once in a while and one by one i stopped hating them.

  14. Everyone here has such legitimate food aversion. For me, it’s chocolate. I really don’t care for it in any way, shape, or form. If something has chocolate in it and it looks good, I would eat it, but almost always regret it after the first bite. Also dislike? Bananas. I hate both the texture and the flavor of them: too mushy, too grainy, too cloyingly sweet, etc.

  15. Beets and goat cheese. I continue to try them once a year because Grown Ups Should be able to eat stuff, but they both just make me gag. That combined with my tree nut allergy made the year of the Roasted Beet, Chevre and Walnut Oil salad a very bad year indeed.

  16. Roasted is he way to go on fennel. Quarter it with some potatoes, carrots, onions, coat with some olive oil, add salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven (just until a tad caramelized). There great with some sort of roast pork…..yum. Other than the above, you can keep fennel away from me.

  17. Try fennel with orange, the combo works.

    Cannot stand fish/shellfish/seafood, I also aspire to like it, I see recipes all the time and think I’d like to make them, but then realise they contain fish. It’s just the taste I can’t stand. I also cannot stand banana, it is actually the smell of them that puts me off. I can’t walk past them in the supermarket because they smell like vomit. A “friend” at work once threw her banana skin at me as a joke, I burst into tears.

  18. Wow…this sounds and looks gorgeous, though I’m someone who likes fennel so much that even braised in dog shit I could probably choke it down. I’ll be making this one for sure. – S

  19. Cloves. I had to have a “dry socket” packed when I had my wisdom teeth out as a teenager and the stuff they use to pack it is soaked in clove oil. I can barely handle the smell of it now. Also, fennel is gross, that’s why you don’t like it. My husband and I are super foodies and I have liked a lot of stuff that surprised me, but every time I try fennel I feel like I’m letting the foodie gods down by not liking it.

  20. Turnips. Peanut butter. Anything involving celery seed. Hmmm, I wonder if it’s significant that those are three flavors my mother passionately adores…something for a therapy session sometime, I suppose!

  21. Loathe offal, broad (fava?) beans and goat’s cheese. Funny reading the comments how many people dislike lamb. I think Australians must be raised on it because I don’t know any Aussie carnivores (although there must be some) who don’t like lamb.

  22. Late to this party, but who can resist complaining even if? Anyway: the licorice/fennel/anise trifecta, cilantro, green pepper, purple beets, raw onions, lamb, and organ meats (including tongue, which my mother cooks frequently, and which makes the whole house smell like she’s boiling post-playoffs hockey socks).

  23. totally with you on the fennel-hating… thought i’d never get it but did make some braised fennel in cream and surprise surprise the roasting and the fat made it taste pretty decent actually! now just need to sort out my issues with that soggy chewy thing they call eggplant…

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