Fennel is in season again. (Hooray!) You might remember the last time I professed my undying love for fennel last winter. In this recipe I’ve left out the orange and paired fennel with roast beef.
It can be intimidating to try something new. And fennel is pretty intimidating, especially if you aren’t sure if you like its mild anise flavor. Fennel goes very well with pork, but also beef. Besides using the fresh fennel bulb, I added sliced onions and gave the roast beef a quick rub with some crushed fennel seeds mixed with salt and pepper.
Slow Cooker Roast Beef with Fennel
If you absolutely hate fennel in all forms, feel free to substitute another spice (or leave it out completely) and use more onions in place of the fennel.
You want to cut off the fibrous, tough stalks. Save them to make a vegetable stock. The fronds are really great used as a fresh herb, so save those too for another use.
Cut the fennel bulb in half, top to bottom. There’s a hard core in there. Cut that out with a sharp knife. I used my serrated bread knife.
Then cut the fennel into slices lengthwise. About 1/4″ is a good size. Fennel keeps its shape and texture even after long cooking periods, so keep that in mind.
Now for the beef roast. I put a few tablespoons of fennel seeds plus about 1 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper into my spice grinder. I then seared the entire surface of the roast in a very hot cast iron skillet coated with a little canola oil.
About 8-10 hours in the slow cooker and you’ve got yourself a tender roast with great flavor. I skim off the fat from the drippings and thicken them with cornstarch mixed with water to make a quick gravy.
Slow Cooker Beef Roast with Fennel
One 3-5 lb. beef roast
1-2 fennel bulbs, stalks and fronds removed, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ strips
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise into 1/4′ strips
1-2 Tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1-2 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed with enough water to make a thin paste (optional, for gravy)
Using a spice grinder, grind fennel seeds, salt and pepper to a medium-fine powder. (Or coarser grind, if desired.) Rub the surface of the roast with the spice mixture. Heat a heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canola oil and heat until you see small wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Sear the beef on each side, over the entire surface until nicely browned–about 2-3 minutes per side.
Place the seared roast into a slow cooker along with the sliced fennel and onions. Add a little water if the roast is lean. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. When done, remove the roast from the slow cooker and place it on a serving platter. Cover tightly with foil while preparing the gravy.
For the gravy, strain out the onions and fennel. Set aside in a bowl and cover with foil until ready to serve. Skim the fat from the drippings, add beef stock or water if there’s not enough to make gravy. Pour the drippings into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add a little of the cornstarch/water slurry, bringing the gravy to a rolling boil until the desired thickness is reached. (If you have about 2 cups of drippings plus any added stock or water, you’ll probably only need 1 Tbsp. of cornstarch.)