Pickled fennel

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This quick-pickled fennel recipe offers a gently spiced, crunchy treat to serve with cured meats, grilled oily fish and a host of summer barbecue favourites. It should keep in the fridge for a few months, seeing you through a whole summer's worth of (preferably al fresco) meals.

First published in 2016
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This quick pickled fennel with orange and star anise will brighten up a summer barbecue no end. If you plan a camping trip, consider packing some of this to freshen up your campfire fodder with no fuss. A jar of pickled veg is nicely compact and by its very nature, ready to go.

I’d love to say that this is an old family recipe that reminds me of the long summer evenings of my schooldays, but it’s not… yet. It has a little family vibe to it because I learnt about quick pickling from my gran. If you’re impatient, as I am, then waiting for a pickle to mellow over weeks can be a bit of a bore. With quick pickling, you heat up the vinegar and pour over the veg. When the pickle is cool, it’s ready to go, although the flavours will pleasingly soften given a little time, even just a couple of days. Eat away or keep in the fridge at snacking intervals.

You can speed up the brining by blanching the fennel in salted water, but as an idle cook I find leaving it to steep quietly overnight is a more chilled alternative. Brining helps draw out liquid, enabling you to squeeze more veg into the jar, it also helps the fennel remain a bit crunchy, which is to my mind, one of this distinctive vegetable’s key virtues.

Choose the freshest, smallest fennel bulbs you can find for pickling. This makes a perfect accompaniment to smoked and cured meats or barbecued oily fish.

This recipe makes enough for one 1 litre Kilner jar.




For the brining

  • 800g of fennel, finely sliced
  • 1.2l water
  • 30g of sea salt, such as Maldon or Halen Môn

For the pickling


Dissolve the salt in the water and cover the sliced fennel. Leave covered overnight at room temperature
The nest day, preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3 to sterilise the Kilner jar
Remove the rubber seal from the jar, wash well in soapy water and then dry in the oven for 20–30 minutes. Sterilise the rubber seal separately in Milton solution. Fill and seal the jars while hot
To make the pickling liquor, bring the cider vinegar and spices to a boil and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes
While the vinegar is heating, drain the fennel well
Stir the sugar into the vinegar and taste, adjusting if necessary to your own preference
Pack the fennel into a hot sterilised jar. When two-thirds full, cover with the spiced vinegar, prodding down to ensure the spices get right down into the pickle. Fill the jar carefully until well-crammed
Top the pickle with rapeseed oil so that all the veg is covered; seal the jar and leave to cool
You can eat the pickle straight away, or keep in the fridge. Advice varies as to how long your pickles will last – my suggestion is not to worry but to keep a casual eye on things. Signs of cloudiness or a bad smell hint that the pickle is no longer good to eat but it should keep well refrigerated for a few months
First published in 2016

Writer and illustrator Chloe King is founder of the food lovers’ book club Cook the Books.

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