No ordinary mashed potatoes can ever be good enough for my Lamb Meatloaf. To spice up my all American mashed potatoes, I've added fennel bulb as well as toasted anise seed to lend a full bodied yet subtle licorice flavor. A bit of toasted black caraway adds a light lemon flavor to balance the slight sweet of the fennel and anise. I love a creamy mashed potato best, so I braise the crunchy fennel bulbs and puree them before adding.
I don't like things to go to waste and I do so love product placement, so I felt there was nothing better to braise the fennel in then the hidden Budweiser we found cleaning up from our Christmas party.
(Someone hid two 30 packs of Budweiser around the house and forgot about them, so I've had 60 Budweiser to use up. Great product placement, right? Cooking with it instead of drinking...what does that say?)
This picture documents the way I spent my Saturday night before the Inauguration Bash. Looks like someone was having a drunk fest, unfortunately it was the leeks and fennel.
I had some leeks from my parents garden laying around so I threw those in as well.
My beer braised fennel and potato mash turned out deliciously. The beer gives the fennel a slightly bitter flavor to compliment the sweet of the bulb. When added to the potatoes, the fennel also lends a subtle yet complex flavor. Here's what I did:
Beer Braised Fennel and Potato Mash
(scaled down to 4-6 servings)
- 1 large bulbs of fennel, quartered
- 1-2 leeks, halved, cleaned and washed
- 3 lbs red potatoes (about 6 large red potatoes)
- 2-3 cans of beer, enough to cover the fennel and leeks
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs anise seed
- 2 tsp black caraway seed
- 1/4 c. butter
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 Parmesan cheese
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Prepare your leeks and fennel for the roaster. Cut the stalks off the fennel bulbs and remove the outer layer, which are usually too thick and woody to use . I find these cuttings are good in soup stock, so you may want to place in a plastic bag and throw in the freezer for the next time you make stock. Waste not, want not, blah blah. Ok, anway, cut your bulb in half or in quarters depending on its size and set in a roasting pan. On to the leeks. Leeks are hard to clean and even bulbs purchased from a store, will often have dirt in the layers, to make sure to do an additional rinse. I find its easiest to clean the leeks by cutting in half and running my fingers through the layers under the faucet.
Place leeks in the roaster with the fennel and pour enough beer to cover the vegetables. Lager or another kind of light beer works great. I don't suggest an ale or any hoppy beers because it will be too bitter.
Braise your fennel and leeks in a preheated oven at 400 degrees until soft and easily pierced with a fork, usually about 60 - 90 minutes. Remove from oven. Drain liquid and place fennel and leeks into a food processor.
Puree in food processor until smooth. Small chunks of vegetable are fine, but if there are bigger ones, you may want to remove them if they won't process down. Once processed, set aside.
Next we'll prepare the mashed potatoes:
Boil your potatoes. You can boil your potatoes whole or cut depending on your preference. I cut mine into quarters generally. Place in a pot and fill with water until potatoes are covered.
Place over medium high heat and bring water to a boil. After water is boiling bring heat down and allow to continue to boil until potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Make sure you stir your pot a few times while boiling so you don't get any potatoes sticking to the bottom of the pot.
While potatoes boil, toast your seeds. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Test the oil with a few anise seeds. The seeds should sizzle in hot oil, but not darken immediately. If they darken immediately, turn heat down a bit and allow to sit for a couple of minutes. If the seeds don't sizzle turn the heat up.
When the oil is right, add all the seeds allowing them to toast until turned dark brown; remove pan from heat. The black caraway seeds won't change color because they are already black so use the anise as a guide. Toasting seeds is one of the best parts of this dish because the air becomes so pungent with the aromatic smells.
Assemble your potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked, drain water. Using a hand mixer or a potato masher, mash potatoes roughly. Add toasted seeds in oil, butter, milk, Parmesan cheese and 1/4 c. of your fennel mixture. Mix using potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste, start with 1/4 tsp of each and add more if necessary. Taste, and add more fennel mash, salt and/or milk and butter to taste. If you like your potatoes more creamy, add more milk and fennel, if you like it more salty add more salt and/or Parmesan cheese.
I love these mashed potatoes! Salty and sweet, with complex full bodied flavor, I highly suggest them to pair with any meats cooked in a Middle Eastern or Indian manner. In this dish, home grown American tastes live in peace with the subtle exotic flavors of the East.
Notes on spices: Black caraway and anise seed may not be regulars in your spice rack, particularly the black caraway. Anise seed should be available in most grocery stores. If you can't find the anise seed, you can probably use fennel seed although this will not give exactly the same punch to the potatoes. As for the caraway, you can skip it entirely or if you still would like a bit of lemon flavor you could use perhaps 1/8 tsp of lemon zest.