Crunchy, sweet and mysteriously spiced, these pickles make a fine accompaniment to chicken and pork. The red wine vinegar gives the brine a rosy hue. The five-spice powder, found wherever Chinese foods are sold, is a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns.
It's helpful to have a jar lifter or tongs with rubberized/silicone ends for transferring the jars into and out of the hot-water baths.
Make Ahead: The fennel needs to be brined for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. For best flavor, store the jar in a cool, dry place for 6 weeks before using. The pickled fennel is good for up to 1 year. Once opened, refrigerate for up to 2 months.
Servings: 1 pint
- 2 bulbs (24 ounces) fennel, with stems and fronds
- 2 3/4 teaspoons pickling or fine sea salt, or more as needed
- 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
Place a rack or towel inside a deep pot. Fill with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the jar upright, making sure there is at least an inch of water over it, and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, leaving the jar in the water until you are ready to use it.
Soak the jar lid and ring in a small saucepan of hot, but not boiling, water, leaving them in the water until you are ready to use them.
Remove the fronds and stems from the fennel and reserve them. Cut the bulbs in half vertically; remove and discard the cores. Cut the bulbs vertically into thin slices. You should have about 2 cups of sliced fennel.
Combine the fennel and salt in a bowl, tossing to combine. Cover with ice water and let sit for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. Taste a slice of fennel. If it isn't decidedly salty, toss with 1 to 2 teaspoons of pickling salt. If it is too salty, rinse in water.
Combine the vinegar, water, honey and five-spice powder in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the honey. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, drain the fennel, discarding the brine. Pack the jar with a few of the reserved fennel fronds, then pack the fennel into the jar. Pour in the hot vinegar mixture, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the rim to clear away any food particles or brine. Use a clean chopstick to stir/remove any air bubbles between the food and the sides of the glass. Seal with the lid and ring, making sure the ring is gently tightened.
You can use the same pot used to sterilize the jar (with rack or towel). Bring the water to less than a full, rolling boil over medium to medium-high heat (adjusting as needed). Use a jar lifter or tongs to transfer the jar to the water bath, making sure there is enough water to cover the jar by 2 inches. Process for 10 minutes. Transfer to the counter to cool undisturbed for 12 hours. The lid should be slightly depressed at the center; that is a sign of a successful seal.
Store in a cool, dry place. Do not open for at least 6 weeks to allow the flavors to develop.
Adapted from "The Pickled Pantry: From Apples to Zucchini, 150 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, Chutneys and More," by Andrea Chesman (Storey, 2012).
Tested by Allyson Fitzgerald.
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