Saturday, June 18, 2005

Striped Bass and Fennel

Striped Bass and Fennel
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

When we started this blog we talked about exercising the freedom to cover virtually any aspect of food culture, but dog food?

Yesterday's dog show got rained out. I took that as a sign.

So, without any further ado, it's time to head back into the realm of human culinary experience, and who better to help us along that path than Amanda Hesser? When I got home last night, I found Michelle all ready to prepare a lovely seafood meal. She'd gone up to Nouveau Falero, picked up a beautiful 2 1/2 pound whole striped bass and was ready to prepare Hesser's recipe for Striped Bass and Fennel from The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside. As much as I love some of Montreal's seafood restaurants, as well as some of the seafood dishes offered by the city's better bistros, let's face it, quality seafood comes at a price in this town. In the summer, though, when we've got our gas grill going, it's pretty easy to match the work of the city's grilled fish specialists--places like Milos and Lezvos--and not only does it cost a lot less, but you can experiment with flavors that you won't necessarily find on the town. A case in point: Striped Bass and Fennel.

1 2-2 1/2 lb striped bass
1 lemon, cut in half, with one half cut into 10 thin half moons
12 sprigs fennel
2 tbsp olive oil, plus a bit more for sprinkling
coarse salt

Brush oil on the cooking rack, then heat your grill. A medium-low flame is ideal for this dish. You should place your rack 5-6 inches from your heat source.

Rinse your prepared fish in cool water then pat it dry with paper towels. Cut 5 slits in each side of the fish, 1/2 inch deep. Place a lemon slice and a fennel sprig into each of these slits. Stuff the stomach cavity with the remaining fennel sprigs. Brush the fish with olive oil, then season with salt.

Place the fish on the heated grill over medium-low flames for 5 to 7 minutes per side. (We used a grilling cage to facilitate flipping the fish and in order to help keep the fish, the lemons, and the fennel sprigs in one package.) Grill the fish until it is well browned. Squeeze lemon juice from the lemon half as you're grilling. The fish is ready when its flesh is opaque and no longer translucent.

Transfer the fish to a serving dish. Sprinkle with olive oil and more juice from the lemon half. Filet the fish at the table, giving each person some fish with lemon and a fennel sprig.

We served the fish with a sauteed fennel and currants dish that Michelle borrowed from Les Chèvres, a scalloped potato dish, and a mixed salad from our garden.

One of the Basque chefs interviewed by R.W. Apple, Jr. in that article I mentioned earlier this week (see Pintxo) was quoted as saying that lemon is just a mask for poor seafood, and therefore truly fresh grilled fish should never be served with lemon. While there may be something to this statement, striped bass with fennel and lemon is a brilliant combination. The charred fennel is delicious; the charred lemon less so; but the two together infuse the bass with flavors that are delicate and clean, flavors that highlight and accentuate the quality of the fish instead of masking it.

Hesser claims that her striped bass dish serves 4--with an extra side dish or two, plus some cheese and bread, it probably could, but it was so delicious that we made quick work of it just the two of us.

[Amanda Hesser's The Cook and the Gardener: A Year of Recipes and Writings from the French Countryside is published by W.W. Norton.]


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