This is a lovely Spanish recipe for a one-pot dish, easy to put together, quick to cook and fabulous for a summer lunch or supper. I adapted it from a recipe in Colman Andrews’ excellent book, Catalan Cuisine.
I used wild sea bass and new potatoes and fennel from the garden: I think fennel goes particularly well with sea bass but if you’re not a fan of its aniseedy flavour you could try a mix of parsley, thyme (especially lemon thyme), lemon balm or verbena, either stuffed into the middle of the fish or chopped and scattered over the top before cooking.
I threw a handful of pangrattato over the fish, which gives a nice crunch, but that’s optional if you’re tight for time.
Adjust the size of the fish and quantity of potatoes depending on how many people you are feeding. My sea bass weighed a little over 900g which is ample for four people. Whether you leave the head on or not depends on how squeamish your guests are.
Baked Sea Bass With Fennel
1 whole sea bass, gutted and descaled, preferably by the fishmonger. Make sure the fins are removed.
250-450g waxy potatoes, thinly sliced (about 5mm thick)
4-6 medium tomatoes, halved
2 shallots or 3-4 fat four spring onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped (you may want to halve this quantity if you’re adding pangrattato)
A big bunch of fennel fronds
A handful of pangrattato
Preheat your oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6.
Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil and put in your sliced potatoes. Bring back to the boil and blanch for 1-4 minutes: the timing really depends on your particular potatoes but they should be part-cooked, not cooked right through.
Drain the potatoes thoroughly then coat the base of a baking dish with olive oil. Layer it with overlapping potato slices.
Stuff the sea bass with the fennel (reserving a few sprigs for garnish) and lay the fish on top of the potatoes. Arrange the tomato halves, cut side up, alongside.
Scatter with the garlic and spring onions/shallots, drizzle lemon juice over, add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle some pangrattato, if using, over the fish. Drizzle the fish with a little more oil.
Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes or until the fish is done and the potatoes are turning golden and crisping at the edges. If the fish is done before the potatoes, remove it carefully and keep it warm then turn the oven up and give the potatoes and tomatoes a quick blast of heat.
Serve in its cooking dish and garnish with extra fennel fronds. Add a few chunks of extra lemon to squeeze over. A white Rioja makes a good accompaniment.
Any leftover fish is very good flaked chunkily into a salad, tossed gently with cooked, sliced new potatoes in a lemony vinaigrette with capers and dill.
That fish looks fresh enough to jump back in! Along with most of my disastrous gardening attempts, the slugs have eaten all my fennel 🙁
My husband always quotes somebody or other who said you plant one third to be sacrificed to the slugs (and/or rabbits, pigeons and other pests), one third to the weather and one third you actually get to eat. Obviously coined by someone with a very big garden.