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How do you prepare fresh fennel for cooking? My isntructions just say to "roughly chop", but don't say what parts of the plant to use.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Sometimes the outer leaves are a bit leathery (especially if the quality isn’t too god). When that’s the case I remove them first.

Next, I remove the green stalks – but Jefromi is right, the tiny leaves are delicious.

The kernel in the middle near the base of the fennel bulb is very hard. I usually cut it out by halving the bulb along its length and making two incisions with a sharp knife on either side of the kernel.

I chop the rest of the bulb so that it yields thin concentric slices.

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It's hard to be absolutely sure without knowing what you're making, but since you say "cooking", it's pretty likely that you want to use the lower portion of the plant - the bulb. "Roughly chopped" is a good indicator that this is right. Those have a crisp texture, something like celery; they're good fresh and raw, but can also be cooked in a variety of ways.

The stems have good flavor but are pretty tough, like celery but much more fibrous. You can add them in big chunks to a long-cooking dish like a stew then fish them out. You can also slice them thinly, breaking up the fibers, and cook in plenty of dishes.

The tiny leaves also have a wonderful flavor, but like most fresh herbs, you don't want to cook them much; the flavor's delicate.

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