Regular readers of this blog would be forgiven for thinking there’s something fishy going on here… This is not the frst but the second whole fish recipe I’ve posted in about a week. Clearly, I’m on a roll.
Either that or I’m:
a) too stingy to buy prepared fillets; or
b) too lazy to fillet myself!
Neither of these is 100% true, although I’d be lying if I said I don’t like the fact that you get more fish for your money if you buy whole. I can, in fact, make 2 fillets out of a cleaned fish, with a lot of help from Rick Stein’s books and a little practising earlier this year on a trip to Norfolk with our friend Rory. But I also have to say that there is a lot of wastage when a non-professional like me fillets a sea bass. And if you’re not going to make fish stock with the fleshy carcass, you will end up throwing the last of the flesh away. Which is a sin, given how delicious sea bass is.
So when I recently came home from the supermarket with 2 sea bass, I had pretty much already made up my mind that they would be cooked whole, with some sort of appropriate stuffing. Although I trawled through quite a few recipes, nothing struck me as completely right. I didn’t want rich creamy sauces or lots of fuss – I just wanted something that would compliment the delicate white flesh while letting the taste of the fish shine through. So in the end I made up a recipe, based on little other than what was floating around my fridge when I got home.
Judging by the 270,00 results returned in a search for sea bass with fennel”, it is something of a classic combination, and I happened to have an ageing bulb of fennel knocking about in my crisper drawer. Bonus. I also always have stuffed olives in the fridge (Nick snacks on them, like sweets) and I thought these would make a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the fennel. With the planning decisions out of the way, it was time to get cooking.
2 whole sea bass, cleaned
1 medium bulb of fennel
1 small onion
about 6-8 pimento stuffed olives
olive oil for sauteeing and brushing
salt and pepper to taste
Chop the onion into slim wedges and slice the fennel thinly before cutting each slice into batons, reserving the green fronds. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and sautee the onion and fennel. Keep the heat fairly low to prevent anything burning and keep an eye on the pan. When the fennel and onions start to caramelise, remove from the heat.
Rinse fish and pat dry inside and out. Season the inside generously with salt and pepper and brush the skin all over with olive oil. Place each fish in the centre of a piece of tinfoil large enough to wrap a single fish.
Spoon as much of the onion and fennel mixture as you can into each fish, piling the remainder alongside the fish on the tinfoil. Slice each olive into four slices and tuck these into the sea bass, as well as scattering around the fish.
Wrap wach parcel up carefully, trying to seal in all the steam and juices, and place in an oven-proof dish. Bake in the middle of the oven at 200C for about 20 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through. Serve immediately, garnished with the leaves from the fennel, preferably on creamy mashed potatoes.
The dish would be an ideal dinner party dish as you can get it to an oven-ready stage and then just leave it in the oven while guests arrive. The olives lift what might otherwise be an overly sweet or bland dish and make it something extraordinary that I would be quite happy to find on a restaurant menu.