The strong, distinctive flavor of a fennel bulb is likened to licorice when eaten raw. And no wonder, since it's a close relative of anise. They're both members of the Apiaceae family, along with parsley, dill, coriander and caraway. Don't let fennel's boldness fool you, though, because it becomes mild, sweet and flavorful when cooked. You can use fennel bulbs as flavorings, raw in salads or cooked as vegetable side dishes. Don't make the mistake of discarding the greens, either. Those fronds are excellent when used as herbs and make attractive garnishes. Fennel is typically available year-round, with the best usually offered from fall to spring.
Inspect fennel carefully when you purchase it. Choose bulbs that are bright white and firm. Reject those with cracks, blemishes or brown spots, or if they look or feel dry. The fronds should be bright green and look and feel fresh, not wilted.
Wrap the fennel in plastic and refrigerate it as soon as possible. Don't let it sit out as you make other preparations. You'll need to use it within a few days of purchase.
Rinse the fennel bulb and fronds well under cool running water. Drain and pat dry.
Use a sharp knife to trim off the fronds and set them aside to use for soup stock herbs or as garnishes. Trim off the bulb's base and discard it.
Cut the fennel bulb in half vertically. Remove and discard the outer layers of both halves.
Cut the halves vertically into quarters or large wedges for grilling or pot roasts. Pop the core pieces out of the wedges and discard them.
Slice the wedges, or cut them crosswise and flake the layers apart for other uses such as sautéing.