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Greek Fish with Fennel and Tomato Sauce

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Striped bass with fennel and tomato sauce

Striped bass with fennel and tomato sauce

Hank Shaw
I developed this fish fillet recipe as a sort of a lark while making a batch of Greek tomato sauce the other day. I'd brought home a striped bass and wanted to give it a treatment other than my normal simple sear. So I married the classic pairing of fish and fennel with the savory Greek tomato sauce, which is laced with sweet red wine and cinnamon.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 chopped red onion
  • 3 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 T. crushed dried oregano
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 cup Mavrodaphne or other sweet red wine
  • 1 28-32 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 chopped fennel bulb
  • 1 pound fish fillets, skin on
  • flour for dusting

Preparation:

Make the sauce.

In a large, deep pot, saute the chopped onion in the oil over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, until translucent but not browned.

Add the garlic and the oregano, mix well and saute for another minute or two. Add the cinnamon stick and the bay leaves, then the tomato paste and mix well to coat everything. Let this cook for 2-3 minutes.

Pour in the sweet red wine, turn up the heat to high and mix well. Bring it to a boil and let it cook down by half.

Add the chopped tomatoes, mix and test for salt. Turn the heat down and simmer the sauce for an hour.

Take the fish out of the fridge and salt them well.

Prepare the fennel. In another large pot, bring a gallon of heavily salted water to a boil. It should taste like the sea. Add the chopped fennel and boil it rapidly for 3-4 minutes, or until it softens to your liking.

Remove the fennel and let it drain and cool in a colander.

Cook the fish. Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-high and add some olive oil. Let the oil get hot for a minute or two.

While the pan and oil are getting hot, dust the fish fillets in flour and shake off the excess.

Saute the fish in the hot oil skin side down until you see that the fillet is about 1/3 cooked through. Carefully flip it -- watch the skin! You want it to be in one piece. Continue cooking until it's about cooked through. It's better to undercook than overcook.

When the fish is verging on being done, remove it and place it on a foil sheet skin side up in a 200-degree oven. It's OK if you just turn the oven on when you insert the fish, you're just keeping them warm.

Complete the dish. Add a little more oil to the saute pan, turn the heat up to high and add the chopped fennel. Make sure it covers the surface of the pan. Let this cook undisturbed for at least 2 minutes, and as many as 4 minutes. You want it to get some serious color.

Toss the fennel to get the other side colored. Continue sauteing for another 2 minutes or so, then turn off the heat.

To plate, pour some tomato sauce on the plates, top with a bed of fennel, then place a fish fillet on top of it all, skin side up.

Good garnishes are the fennel fronds, black pepper or fresh oregano. Served with a strong Spanish rose or a light red, such as a Beaujolais.

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