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Black Bass with Fennel-Orange Cream

Black Bass with Fennel-Orange Cream

The other day I looked in on Helen's fish-oriented blog, Beyond Salmon, and found this wonderful-looking  Sea Bream with Fennel and Oranges, just at the moment when I had a fennel bulb and some oranges (left over from the Paper Chef entry last week) in the fridge. I also had a trip scheduled to Portland, the home of super fresh fish, so I resolved to pick up some suitable whole fish and broil away, à la Helen.

I always think bass is a particularly good fish for interesting sauces, because while fresh and firm the white meat is very delicately flavored, and so makes a good non-competitive background for a sauce with some complexity and depth. Of course I couldn't resist making a few changes for my version of Helen's dish, so I added some basil and leeks to the mix, seasoned with my new love, fish sauce, and then puréed the vegetable/fruit mélange and added some cream. The result: excellent. The orange, fennel and basil all maintained their identity, the leeks added some flavor depth, and it all combined well with the cream to a give me a satisfying whole-that-was-greater-than-its-parts concoction with a pleasing mouth feel, aroma and taste. The bass, for its part, carried the sauce extremely well, as expected. Thanks, Helen for your inspiring leadership along this path!

Black Bass with Fennel-Orange Cream

Serves 2.

2 black bass, about a pound each, gutted and scaled
1 medium fennel bulb, cored, outside sections removed, sliced thin
1 orange, peeled, sectioned, seeds removed (I used a California navel)
olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 T fresh basil, minced, plus a few sprigs for garnish
1 medium leek, white part only, cleaned and cut in thin disks
1/2 C heavy cream
1 tsp cognac
fish sauce, salt, hot sauce, to taste

Wash and pat the fish thoroughly dry. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle the cavity and both sides with a little salt.

In a bowl, toss the orange sections, fennel, basil, vinegar, and leeks with 2 T olive oil.

Lay the fish on an oiled foil-lined broiler pan and mound the orange-fennel mixture over it. Broil about 4" from the heat about 10 minutes, for fish 1" thick at thickest part, or proportionally longer for thicker fish, turning the fish once. (If the skin starts to char, with a thicker fish, reduce the oven to 425º and move the pan to the middle rack to finish.)

Remove the fish to a warm platter and cover loosely with foil. With tongs, remove 3/4 of the orange-fennel mix to a blender jar and pour any liquid from the pan into the jar. Purée on high, a minute or two (you may need to add a little liquid -- I used a couple of tablespoons of milk but any kind of broth or just water would be fine). Pour in the cream and cognac and blend on low for another 10 seconds. Correct seasoning with fish sauce and hot sauce (I found that the sauce at this point was quite sweet and so needed an aggressive treatment with both.)

To serve, spoon the sauce over the fish and garnish with the reserved roasted fennel, orange slices and leeks and a sprig or two of basil. I served this with steamed short-grained Japanese rice and a few of Kevin's brussels sprouts (to which I am now addicted: thanks Kevin!), with a crisp Pinot Grigio.


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Yum! Your fish looks equally appetizing! I love how foodbloggers are able to inspire each other and I love how you're able to put your own touch to the recipe. I'm inspired by both of you.


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