Friday, 20 February 2015 | 22 comments

Fennel salt à la Jody Williams

I love Buvette, the West Village Manhattan restaurant by chef Jody Williams, but I have only eaten there once. Luckily, I was gifted the Buvette cookbook this past year.

French-y, well-sourced, market-driven food is everywhere nowadays, so it takes a good cookbook to actually make me care about someone’s particular spin on the roast chicken or aioli. The Buvette cookbook makes you care.

Jody Williams is heavy on technique, in the kind of way that, when you read it, you recognize as either total hogwash or totally brilliant. (It’s totally brilliant.) I only ever “fork-crumble” my pecorino (and lots of other hard cheeses) anymore, and Williams’s method for oeufs brouillés, with a knob of butter stirred in at the end, makes scrambled eggs special. Williams also goes on about how much she loves using fennel pollen, which, as a mere mortal, I have not even actually tasted. But never fear, she created fennel salt as a near-substitute and, while I can’t speak about how well it approximates fennel pollen, I will say that I like this fennel salt stuff very much.

Here is what fennel salt is: ground up fennel seeds mixed with coarse salt. It is not hard to make and it keeps for a very long time. Many, many foods benefit from fennel salt finishing. I’m not sure why, but it is alchemy. Even if you don’t like fennel, I wouldn’t write fennel salt off quite yet. There’s something about the faint notes of fruity, licorice-y fennel that makes everything taste a little more deeply flavored; a little more savory. Williams uses the fennel salt on roast chicken, and I like it sprinkled on fried eggs and any vegetable. Being able to put together simple ingredients like these, and having them in my back pocket, makes me feel like a better cook.

Jody Williams’s fennel salt

Adapted from Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food
Wonderfully talented Julia Turshen co-wrote Buvette with Williams, and I could devote another whole blog post to how much I like Turshen’s work. But suffice it to say that the recipes probably owe at least some of their greatness to her, too.

You’ll need

  1. 3 tablespoons whole fennel seeds
  2. 1/2 cup kosher salt

Directions

  1. Grind the fennel in a mortar and pestle or in a spice mill. (If you, in a pinch, use your coffee grinder, it gives your next few pots a nice anise-y aroma.)
  2. Mix the ground fennel with the salt thoroughly. Store in a jar up to a year.

Roasted chicken with fennel salt & herbes de Provence

You’ll need

  1. 1 whole chicken, patted dry inside and out
  2. 1 tablespoon fennel salt
  3. 1 tablespoon ground dried herbes de provence, or any woody herb

Directions

  1. Put the chicken on a platter. Rub it liberally with fennel salt and herbes de provence. Allow it to sit at room temperature for at least an hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Roast chicken in a roasting pan or baking dish until a thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit, about 60 minutes for a 4-pound chicken. Let rest 10 minutes before carving and serving.

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§ 22 responses to Fennel salt à la Jody Williams

  • sue

    Interesting, I was just listening to our local NPR station which has a food Friday call in show with local food people chefs etc. The chef on yesterday was from Iran and has a mid-east restaurant and was talking about a chicken dish that he finished with a few anise seeds. He was very cute in explaining how if you got a bite with the anise seed you would get a little pleasant surprise in your mouth. This sounds like adding a similar flavor.

  • Margit Van Schaick

    Hi! Zingerman’s on-line lists “wild fennel pollen”. The call it “fairy dust for food lovers” and they mention that it’s rare and if you try to order it from them, they may already be sold out. So, the fennel salt recipe you’re posting is the closest most of us can experience— thank you for this gift! Much-appreciated. I guess that I would order my fennel seeds from an organic seed source.

    • Hi! Thanks, Margit. Yeah, a reputable source would be nice for the fennel seeds, although I have to say, I have no idea about where the ones I’ve been using come from :) –S

  • Julia is magic, I agree — and happens to be one of the nicest, most radiant people around! Sadness, but I cannot find my Buvette book — which is odd because our apt is not that large. Not that I have time to cook these days, but if I don’t find it soon, I need to purchase again – a keeper of a book, for sure. Have a safe trip! xx

  • This post makes me want to go grab one of my unread cookbooks off the shelf and disappear for a few hours. I make my own “seasoning” by roasting coriander, sea salt and black pepper. I use it to season many meats and it does wonders for a simple salad. The fennel salt sounds brilliant and I too would love to get my hands on fennel pollen.

  • Oh, lovely. We’ve recently taken to roasting chickens. As mostly vegetarians for most of our lives, tackling a whole bird has proven… challenging. Inevitably my husband becomes CONVINCED he didn’t cook it enough, even after sticking it 15 times with a thermometer, even after keeping it in the oven 20 minutes longer than expected. By this point, he’s already eaten a bunch of the bird, and is now CONVINCED he will die from salmonella with a day. So, we may just need another chicken recipe to try out, to see if we can develop a better rapport with roasting a bird. I will also say that the thing about cooking chicken is, if you pay the extra bucks to get a happy-ethical-yet-still-dead chicken, it just tastes way better. I imagine with fennel salt this effect is only further improved. Will try it.

    • Ha! I’m on the other end of the spectrum; I’m so terrified of an overdone chicken that I take out immediately when it gets to the right temp, which freaks Ben out. I like whole birds though. Good luck! –S

  • YUM!! Sign me up for salt making…this looks so easy and yummy!! xx

  • Amy

    Oh I love fennel, last week we had it braised and served with Maille walnut mustard dolloped on top. I must try this salt!

  • I’ve never heard of nor eaten at Buvette but the photos on their website are the stuff my dreams are made of. Thanks for featuring the restaurant/chef and providing this recipe! I’m not much of a fan of fennel by itself (I blame one too many instances of unknowingly eating black licorice, which I detest), but this looks and sounds like it’s worth a try. I love that it keeps for so long, too. Thanks again!

  • Kate

    I’ve had fennel salt for years that was sent to me from a friend living in France. It is truly amazing on roasted vegetables. I’ve been hoarding it and selectively using it so I don’t run out, and now I don’t have to any longer. I now want roasted chicken for dinner, too.

  • Fennel was an acquired taste for me but now I love it. I love adding fennel seeds to a rub on slow-roasted pork, and can’t wait to try this fennel salt!

    By the way, in the latest issue of Bon Appetit there’s a feature on Mexico City and a salad dressing made special with the addition of instant espresso. I’ve yet to try this but it caught my eye and seems like something you might enjoy.

  • Please please tell me – what’s “fork crumbling”?? :)

    • It’s exactly what it sounds like—-dragging the tines of a normal fork through a mature, harder cheese like pecorino. You get tiny bits and bigger bits and it’s so much more satisfying than the fairy dust you get from microplaning or the tiny holes on a box grater. Try it!

  • I, too, love Buvette – both the place (it’s more than a restaurant, isn’t it?) and the book, which I could not wait to get my hands on to see if Jody Williams’ meatballs were in it. I ate at every restaurant in NYC where her meatballs were on the menu long after she had moved on. Now I make them at home. If you have not tried them – with pine nuts and currants, oh, yum – I suggest you do since she so generously shared the recipe in her cookbook. I doubt you will be disappointed.

    Now, since I love anything with even a scent of licorice, I’m off to make this fennel salt, which I have not yet tried. Thanks for the tip.

  • Oh yes! Fennel is my secret ingredient in many dishes. Can’t wait to try this one!

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