In this series, we ask chefs about the secret ingredients they love—and how you can use them at home. Here, executive chef Mindy Oh of Mora Italiano in Encino, California, shares her love for fennel pollen. The versatile spice is harvested from wild fennel, whose tiny, bright yellow flowers bloom through the summer, and can be dusted over just about anything.
Secret ingredient: Fennel pollen is my go-to spice for steak, fish, chicken, vegetables, grains, and almost anything else I can sprinkle it on top of. It will add notes of citrus and licorice to dishes. It’s a subtle flavor that’ll confuse people as to what that aftertaste is, or where that depth of flavor is coming from.
My first experience with fennel pollen was at my very first kitchen job. I needed to braise some pork belly and my chef advised me to use some fennel pollen. [The combination of] braised pork belly, oranges, fennel pollen, and pineapple just blew my young culinary mind.
How to use it: I love using it in purees, roasted vegetables, or proteins. It really lends itself well to pork dishes and fish dishes. I usually have to refrain myself from putting it in all of my dishes at Mora and at home.
Since it is a little expensive, I cut it with salt to make a fennel pollen salt, which extends its shelf life. Thankfully, a little bit of fennel pollen will go a long way with your dishes.
The best place to buy fennel pollen would be at a specialty grocery shop or the internet. A lot of people I know in California will forage their own fennel flowers and hang them upside down for the fennel pollen. I did it once and completely forgot that flowers usually come with little friends. That being said, fresh fennel pollen has a much brighter flavor profile than dried fennel pollen does.