Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp, Roasted Fennel with Saffron Vanilla Sauce

Sweet to Savory is the recipe contest that Marx Foods (a specialty fine food store based in Seattle) is hosting.  They reached out to me to ask if I would like to participate.  I have entered a few of their previous contests and always had a great time so naturally I said yes.  Days later I received a box of ingredients.  It contained vanilla beans, granulated honey, coconut sugar and fennel flower crystals.  The rule is to at least use two out of the four sweet ingredients to make a savory dish.  I've heard about fennel flower crystals, but have never used it before so I tasted it and it's got a slight sweetness. It has a concentrated anise flavor with a floral component.  It has a crunchy texture.  I figure I would use it in a marinade as well as to finish a dish.  I also thought I would use the coconut sugar, but then I realized I've already used it in the Coconut Caramel Pulled Pork Empanada recipe in a previous contest.  The vanilla is a tricky one because not many savory dishes contain vanilla unless it's used in a sauce.  I remember making a saffron vanilla sauce in school, so I decided that I'd use the vanilla and fennel flower crystals together.

As to the protein I chose shrimp because I think the shellfish would go well with the sauce besides I already have some in my freezer.  I often have shrimp in my freezer because I love shrimp plus it makes for a quick weeknight meal.  I also like to save shrimp shells to make shrimp stock.  I just love the intense shrimp flavor you get from the shells.  If I'm making shrimp I often use some shrimp stock to make a sauce to add another layer of the shrimp flavor.  If you don't have shrimp shells to make stock, you could substitute it with some store-bought seafood stock.  To tie the dish together with the fennel flower crystals, I also made some roasted fennel to give it another element of the fennel flavor and texture.  

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp, Roasted Fennel with Saffron Vanilla Sauce - Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as main course

Fennel Flower Crystals Dusted Shrimp
12 colossal shrimp shelled and deveined
1 tspn of fennel flower crystals divided (use half in the marinate then half to finish the dish)
1 tspn of salt
1/2 tspn of black pepper
Juice of a lemon

Roasted Fennel
2 fennel bulbs cut in quarters
6-8 gloves of garlic
3-4 springs of thyme
2 tspn of fennel fronds reserve for garnish
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Saffron Vanilla Sauce
1 1/2 cup of shrimp stock (recipe to follow)
1 vanilla bean
4 tbsp of unsalted butter (cut to small pieces)
1 tbsp of heavy cream
1/2 tspn of saffron threads

Shrimp Stock (optional as you can substitute with store bought seafood stock)
3 cups of water
2 cups of shrimp shells
3-4 pieces of ginger cut 1/2 inch thick
3 pieces of scallion (green part cut in 2-3 inch pieces)

Put all the ingredient for the shrimp stock and let it simmer for about 45 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let it reduce then strain.  It'll yield approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups of stock.  This can be made ahead and set aside for the sauce.

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut off the stalks from the fennel bulb, save about 2 tspn of the fronds for garnish.  Trim off the outer tough parts of the bulb.  Cut the bulb in half then trim off the core as it could be too tough to eat, then cut the rest of the bulb in quarters.  Season with salt, pepper, drizzle with olive oil then add the garlic and thyme and roast it for 30-40 minutes until fork tender.

For the sauce, split the vanilla in half then scrape the seeds into a small saucepan.  Add the vanilla pod, shrimp stock and saffron.  Simmer and reduce to half.  Strain the sauce then add the heavy cream.  Simmer for a few more seconds then whisk in the butter a little at a time over medium heat.  Keep whisking until the sauce thickens.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Keep warm until it's ready to serve.

Season the shrimp with salt, pepper and fennel flower crystals.  Add olive oil to coat and let it marinate for 15 minutes.  Heat a skillet until it's hot, then add olive oil to coat, then sear the shrimp 2-3 minutes on each side until the flesh turns pink.  Turn off the heat then add lemon juice.

To finish the dish, spoon the sauce onto a plate, then put the roasted fennel and shrimp on top.  Sprinkle more fennel flower crystals and garnish with fennel fronds.

I really love the sauce as you can taste the vanilla flavor, but the saffron gives it a great balance of the savory element as well as the vibrant color of the sauce.  The fennel flower crystals give a burst of anise flavor and floral note to the dish.  Thanks again Marx Foods for thinking of me for this contest.  As always I have fun with the ingredients.  Until next time...


  1. OMGEEEE this looks delish. Wish I could just grab it from my phone!! Great job!

  2. Hey lady just dropped by to see what are you up to. Gurl, you are rocking NY. Following you on Insta of course. :)


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