What is it?
The flowers of wild fennel produce a bright-yellow pollen that, when naturally dried, tastes sweetly and pungently of aniseed. Chefs call it ''magic fairy dust'' and use it as an instant lift for desserts, cakes, salads, fish and chicken dishes.
Where is it?
Michael Fox of Henry and the Fox serves it with crisp pork belly, braised fennel, fennel puree, dill and orange. At the Royal Mail in Dunkeld, Dan Hunter harvests his own fennel pollen to flavour a spectacular dessert of parsnip, apple, blueberries, fennel and creme fraiche. Fennel pollen is also one of the ''flavour bombs'' scattered through the adventurously modern menu of Grossi Florentino, appearing with tuna carpaccio, charred leek, garlic flowers, heritage beets, peach distillate and bowfin caviar, as well as with coral trout, fennel, celery, New Zealand clams and an acqua pazza broth. ''It opens up a whole new way of thinking,'' Guy Grossi says. ''Once you use it, you start looking at everything in the garden in a new light.''
At the new Grain bar at the Four Seasons in The Rocks, Hamish Ingham serves spring pollen over lardo (cured pork fat) on toast with black and white garlic. At Restaurant Atelier in Glebe, chef Darren Templeman teams it with baby fennel and fennel fronds with a delicate poached fillet of john dory. "It's so intense we use it as a flavour enhancer with everything from lamb to ice-creams and custards," he says. "Everyone says they can smell it long before their plates hit the table." Josh Rea of distributor Waimea Trading says fennel and dill pollen have been building in popularity among chefs for the past three years, "but have never been adopted by home cooks until now".
Why do I care?
You won't, if you don't like aniseed, liquorice or other anise-like flavours. You will, if you do. Trouble is, it costs about $23 for 14 grams and $45 for 28 grams, although you need only a pinch.
Can I do it at home?
Yes. Wrap a dozen flowering fennel or dill stalks in a large paper bag and hang upside down, sealed at the top around the stalks. Shake the bag occasionally, then collect the pollen after two or three weeks and store.
Henry and the Fox, 525 Little Collins Street, city, (03) 9614 3277; Royal Mail Hotel, 99 Parker Street, Dunkeld, (03) 5577 2241; Grossi Florentino, 80 Bourke Street, city, (03) 9662 1811; Key Ingredients, 171 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill, (03) 9481 1011;
Grain, Four Seasons, 199 George Street, Sydney, (02) 9250 3118; Restaurant Atelier, 22 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, (02) 9566 2112;
Fennel pollen ice-cream with pineapple
200g castor sugar
1 tsp fennel pollen
250g mascarpone, chilled
250g natural yoghurt
200g fresh pineapple, crushed
1 tbsp dill sprigs
Lemon fennel crunch
1 tbsp demerara sugar
good pinch of fennel pollen
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1. Combine the sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring. Continue to boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add 1 tsp fennel pollen and set aside to infuse, then cool, strain and chill. Whisk the mascarpone, yoghurt and fennel syrup together and churn in an ice-cream maker until frozen (or freeze in a shallow container, stirring to break up the crystals every hour for the first 3 hours). To make the crunch, mix the sugar, pollen and lemon zest together. To serve, spoon the crushed pineapple on to dessert plates, top with scoops of ice-cream and scatter with lemon fennel crunch and dill sprigs.