Fennel is one of those divisive vegetables with a potent anise aroma that people tend to love or hate. To be honest, I've disliked anything that tastes like licorice since I was a kid, but I've warmed up to fennel over the years (though I still can't do black licorice).
This Warm Beef and Shaved Fennel Salad was one of the first dishes I posted on this site, and it was also one of the first times I had fennel in a salad and enjoyed it. Nearly 10 years on, it's still one of my favorite dishes and I decided it was high time that I revisit it with an updated recipe.
The trick to turning this potent fibrous bulb into a crisp fragrant salad green is to shave it and then soak it in cold water. By shaving it thinly, it keeps the fibers in check, and soaking it in water not only crisps the strands of fennel, it also tames the bitter licorice notes.
Together, the warm fillet mignon, shaved fennel and yuzu dressing is divine, and makes for the perfect light meal on a hot summer day. The tart, mildly sweet dressing cuts through the richness of the steak while complementing the savoury crust of fond seared onto the outer edge of each slice. The herbal anise notes in the crisp fennel mate perfectly with the bright, sweet essence of yuzu. Even the colours all work in harmony from the earthy browns and reds of the meat juxtaposing the pale green strips of fennel, all punctuated with verdant flecks of chervil and chives.
While I don't usually rest steaks when I serve them whole (since they get some time to rest on the way to the table), if you're slicing them, such as for this salad, it's imperative that you let them rest. As the muscle fibers in a piece of meat cook, they tighten up and squeeze out their juices, but by letting the steak rest, the muscle fibers have a chance to relax as they cool,, allowing some of the juices to get reabsorbed by the steak instead of ending up all over your salad.
- Shave the fennel into very thin slices on a mandoline. Soak the shaved fennel in ice water to make it crisp.
- To make the dressing, put the olive oil, yuzu juice, Dijon mustard, salt, honey and black pepper into a bottle and shake to emulsify. I like using a small plastic squeeze bottle for this as it makes it very easy to dress the salad.
- Generously salt and pepper all sides of steak and then drizzle each side with 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
- Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat until very hot. Add the steak and cook on one side until the bottom surface is very well browned (about 2 minutes). Flip the steak over and brown the other side. You can use an instant read thermometer to check for your desired doneness (125 F = rare, 135 F = medium-rare, 142 F = medium, 150 F = medium-well). Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- While the steak is resting, drain the fennel and spin it in a salad spinner to dry. Add the fennel to a bowl with the chives.
- Toss the fennel with enough dressing to lightly coat each strand of fennel and split the salad between two plates.
- Slice the steak and split it between each salad. Top with a drizzle of dressing on the beef and then sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper to taste.