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Posts tagged ‘braised fennel’

Survival of the Fishiest

One Valentine’s Day a few years ago, I got Scott an exotic fish for his salt water tank.

And by exotic, I mean tropical freaktastic.  I had to consult with dozens of fish store über-dorks before I found what I wanted: a pygmy frogfish.

The damned thing had ELBOWS.

We brought the fish home and put it in Scott’s tank with his other less exotic–but still expensive–fishes.

And it was a Valentine’s Day Miracle:  I had gotten Scott the perfect present.

A bottle of merlot was opened.

Everybody involved either swam around or made out.

Night came.

And then something terrible happened.

The pygmy frogfish turned into a colossal asshole.

Specifically, he grew a FISHING ROD from his HEAD.

At the end of the fishing rod was a bright red ball.

And this bright red ball caused an epic nature channel show-down.

Unfortunately, we slept through it.

The next morning, the pygmy frogfish was three times his original size.  He had jumped several weight classes.  Nothing about him was “pygmy” at all.

Also, he was alone.

And the expression on his face was all “I’M FROM FREAKING BELIZE, DUDES.  BRING ME SOME WINE.”

Now would be a good time to point out that the other fish had cost $60-$80 a pop.  Some had been around for years.

One allegedly “knew Scott’s voice.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but I was not in a position to question it.

Eventually–much later–we were able to look the frogfish in the eyes again.

We named him Alexandro, because that’s the most popular name for boys in Belize.

He lived the long, contented life of a complete asshole.

                                                                               ~The End~

N.B.  Depending on which fish you identified with in this story, the lesson is either “life is short” or “seafood is the choice of champions.”

In the spirit of both, I’m making Scott some sea bass next week.  I’m calling it Sea Bass Alexandro with Fennel.

It’s tasty, good for you, and pretty easy.  All you do is chop the fennel and braise it with white wine, bay leaves and raisins.  You also chop one little shallot that goes with the fish into the oven.

It’s a special meal because halibut and bass can be a bit expensive.  But we are already so far in the hole when it comes to Alexandro that we figured what’s an extra $20.

The key is not overcooking the fish, and turning your heat up enough on the fennel that it browns prettily. (I wasn’t much good at that, but it tasted great.)

This recipe originally appeared here in Food & Wine magazine as a halibut recipe to feed 6 people.  I tweaked it so it yields hearty portions for 2 and could stretch to 3, and I used Chilean sea bass instead of halibut.

Sea Bass Alexandro with Braised Fennel  {Download & Print Recipe}


1½ tbsp. olive oil

2 fennel bulbs

salt & pepper

1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper (red pepper flakes)

2/3 c. + 1 tbsp. white wine

2 bay leaves

1/4 c. golden raisins

1 small shallot

1 lb. meaty white fish, such as halibut or bass, skin removed


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

To make the fennel:

Discard the leafy tops of the fennel.  Rinse the fennel bulbs and cut them in half along the long width of the fennel. (See the second picture above of the fennel on the cutting board.) Then cut into wedges about an inch thick.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp. of the olive oil. Add the fennel wedges with a cut side of each facing down. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and the crushed red pepper.

Cover and cook over medium heat about 12-18 minutes, turning the wedges halfway through. The goal is to brown the fennel. If it’s not browning, turn the heat up a little bit.

Add 2/3 c. of the wine, the bay leaves and raisins, and simmer uncovered over low heat, turning the wedges a few times, until most of the wine has evaporated and the fennel is tender, 15 minutes or more. The fennel should not cook so long that it’s mushy, but it shouldn’t still be crunchy.

Discard the bay leaves and taste the fennel, seasoning with salt and black pepper if needed.

To make the fish:

Mince the shallot. Spread the shallot in the shape of the fish fillet on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle the remaining 1 tbsp. of wine on top of the shallots.

(If you don’t have a rimmed baking sheet, you can cover your unrimmed sheet with tin foil and mold the edges up into a rim.)

Season the bottom (skinned) side of the fish with some salt and black pepper and place it over the minced shallot. Rub the top of the fish with the remaining 1/2 tbsp. olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.

Roast the fish on the top shelf of the oven until it is barely opaque in the center.

(Note that the cooking time will depend on what kind of fish you got and how thick it is. My sea bass was more than 2 inches thick and took about 15 minutes. Just flake the fish back to check for doneness and remember that it will keep cooking for a few minutes after you remove it from the heat.)

Transfer the fish with its cooking juices to a platter and spoon the braised fennel alongside.


2-3 servings.


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