Laser (Silphium) Stem / Root / Juice

1-1/2 oz
3/4 hr

A problem reconstructing recipes from Imperial Roman is that an important flavoring is extinct - the giant fennel called laser (Greek silphium). For the resin we use asafoetida, just as the Romans did by Nero's day - inferior, but available. What about stems, roots and juice which were also used? With only a few hints on flavor, this is my take on faking it up - and it works rather well. Start with about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of sauce and adjust to your taste.

Fennel (1)
Pure Olive Oil
Asafoetida (2)
  1. Chop FENNEL small and run in a food processor with the sharp blade until as close to liquified as you can get it. Add a little water if needed so it processes well.
  2. Wrap Fennel Paste in a muslin cloth and wring it out hard, retaining all the liquid. Discard the dry, almost flavorless pulp.
  3. In a saucepan large enough to hold the fennel juice, bring Oil up fairly hot but well before smoking. Take it off the heat and stir in the Asafoetida for just a few seconds until the foam subsides, then pour in the fennel juice. See Note-3.
  4. Put the pan over moderate heat and simmer down until a little less than 1/4 cup of liquid remains. Put up in a small jar and refrigerate until needed.
  1. Fennel:   Wild fennel stems would probably be better, but I use what I can get - Florence fennel (often sold as "anise"). Buy from a market that leaves the stems long. The ones I buy are 14 inches long counting bulbs and stems.
  2. Asafoetida:   Use ayurvedic grade pure powdered asafoetida if possible. Indian market "hing powder" is cut to 30% with rice flour and gum arabic. Alternately crush pure resin (available in some Indian markets) into powder. See my Asafoetida page for more information.
  3. Hot Oil:   Asafoetida has a sulfurous stink very like SAE 90 Weight Hypoid Gear Oil - not a characteristic of silphium. The brief frying in hot oil (standard practice in India) tempers this odor.
  4. U.S. measure: t=teaspoon, T=Tablespoon, c=cup, qt=quart, oz=ounce, #=pound, cl=clove in=inch
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