Fennel Braised Pork with Polenta

One morning a few weeks ago, one of our kitchen volunteers asked me about this dish. He said that while he was scooping it into a pan, the great smell of it caught his attention. He admitted to tasting it cold- and really enjoying it! He then asked me for the recipe to make it at home, and reported back that it was delicious. I hope you enjoy it as much as him!

Fennel Braised Pork with Polenta
By Brandon Foster, executive chef
Serves 4-6

For the Pork:

  • 1.5 pounds boneless pork for stewing, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil blend
  • 2 onions, julienned
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 32 ounces chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds, whole
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, ground
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • Kosher salt, black pepper, and lemon juice, to taste
  • Parmesan for serving (optional)

For the Polenta:

  • 1 cup polenta
  • 4 cups water
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Butter (optional)

Place a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Once it has heated up, add the oil, then the pork. Saute the pork for 3-5 minutes, or until it has seared on all sides. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and saute for 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, white wine, and chicken broth.

Place the bay leaves and whole fennel seeds in cheesecloth. Add to the pot along with the ground fennel. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until the pork is nice and tender. As the pork cooks the liquid will start to reduce and thicken, which is a good thing. If it gets too thick, add a little water or some more chicken broth.

While the pork cooks, make the polenta. Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Stir in the polenta, and reduce the heat immediately to a simmer. Let it simmer, stirring often, until it has a creamy texture and consistency- usually between 15 and 30 minutes. If it gets too thick, add a little water. Season with kosher salt. (For extra richness, fold in a little butter, too.) Once it’s done, leave the polenta in the pot, covered and off the heat, until ready to serve. 

Once the pork is tender, remove the cheesecloth with the bay leaves and fennel. Fold in the chopped zucchini and stir well. Turn off the stove and let the stew sit, off the heat, for about 15 minutes. This will soften the zucchini just enough and keep it from getting mushy.

Season the stew with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. To serve, spoon some polenta into the bottom of a bowl, and top with a scoop of the pork stew and maybe some parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Chef Brandon FosterBrandon Foster began his life in the kitchen at the Best Western in Frisco, Colorado, almost 18 years ago. His passion for ingredients and drive to learn technique led him down the mountain to Denver, where he worked in two of Denver’s most fondly remembered restaurants, The Fourth Story and Mel’s. He joined the crew at Vesta in 2005 as a line cook and became executive chef in 2010, focusing on getting back to the roots of cooking through charcuterie and seasonal ingredients. Ultimately, Chef Brandon’s career highlights centered on events like Plates for the Peak, Invest in Kids, and James Beard Foundation dinners where he could play a role in helping people in need- a passion that led him to Project Angel Heart in 2016. Outside the kitchen, Chef Brandon enjoys spending time skiing, camping, golfing, and eating with his wife Larissa and their three kids.