Like most braises, this isn’t quite hot-summer-day food, but if you can’t wait til winter (and given the seasons for one of the key ingredients, winter isn’t possible), this is a good dish for a gloomy, rainy day when you want something hearty to warm you up from the inside out. First, a fennel bulb (a fun vegetable to work with) is caramelized and braised with mushrooms to make a delicious side dish and leave a strongly flavored broth behind which, combined with a bit of Port, is used for braising a veal shoulder steak.
This is something of an ugly duckling. If you tell me that photo looks beautiful, I’d say you’re being polite (but I would also serve you dinner…see how much you get if you tell me what you really think of that photo! 😉 ). But that’s just fine as we all know how the ugly duckling routine goes–flavor-wise, this meal is a beauty!
This dish had a really hearty, full-bodied sauce, a real positive result from using a fatty, tougher cut of meat. After braising the veal to tender perfection, the sauce takes on a really rich veal essence as well as the light, sweet anisey flavor from fennel. The caramelized fennel and mushrooms are surprisingly light, sweet, and earthy. All together, this was just a rich and delicious dinner.
- 1.25 lbs veal shoulder steak
- 1 fennel bulb (and the fronds)
- 1.5 cup chicken stock
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 8 oz mushrooms
- 1 cup port
- 1 shallot
- 6 cloves garlic
Strip off the fronds (save them! You can use them just like any other herb–and you will later in this recipe) and cut the fennel bulb in half from top to bottom. Fill a saucepan with the chicken stock and get it simmering, at which point, you should add the fennel and simmer actively for 10 minutes.
Towards the end of the 10 minutes, add in the lemon juice, 1 Tbsp of the butter, a dash of salt & pepper, and finally the mushrooms. Wait for the stock to return to a bubbly simmer, at which point you should remove the pan from the heat and let it rest covered for 10 minutes.
Once time is up, strain out the solids and reserve the liquid in a bowl. Add the port to the liquid and set this aside for now.
In a hot pan, melt 1 Tbsp of butter and sauté the softened fennel bulb, seasoning all sides with salt, pepper, and sugar. Caramelize all sides, lightly browning the fennel for about 2 minutes on each side.
Arrange the mushrooms and caramelized fennel in a baking dish, spreading small chunks of the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter throughout. Cover this with tin foil and bake it in the oven at 350°F for 40 minutes.
While the fennel and mushrooms are finishing up, its time to work on the veal. Begin by mincing the shallot and garlic.
Now, season the veal with salt and pepper on all sides. In a hot pan, melt a knob of butter and brown the veal on all sides. Remove the veal from the pan and set it aside for now. In the same pan and oil, sauté the shallot for 5 minutes followed by the garlic for another minute.
Deglaze the pan with the reserved port/broth liquid from earlier, return the veal to the pan, and warm this up to a boil. Slide a few fennel fronds into the liquid, cover the pan, and transfer this to the oven (along with the cooking fennel/mushroom) for 45 minutes.
Once time is up, the veal should be fork tender and smelling amazing. Remove the veal from the pan and set it aside from now so that we can boil the broth down to be a thicker sauce. Discard the wilted fennel fronds since they’ve served their purpose.
Looking at my first plating photos from above, in retrospect, I should have also poured this liquid through a strainer so that I could discard the garlic and shallots as they’ve served their purpose, but its really not the end of the world if you don’t. Boil this hard for a few (5-10) minutes until the liquid is reduced by at least half (or more if you’d like the liquid to be a thicker consistency and consider a bit of flour/cornstarch if you want it much thicker. I was happy with a soupy consistency).
Finally, plating time. Sadly, this isn’t the sexiest looking dish, but you and your guests won’t care. Plate a pile of fennel and mushrooms, a piece of veal, and pour on a bit of the sauce, maybe decorating with a fennel frond or two…since everyone will know what that odd looking leaf is. 😉