I’ve noticed that I’ve been seeing good quality (very fresh) sea bass and sea bream on the iced displays at local fishmongers. Both the sea bream and sea bass are a Mediterranean fish and as I looked on the side of the Styrofoam boxes that contain these fish packed in ice – they are shipped in regularly from Greece.
The fish used in today’s dish is known as “Lavraki” in Greek and it’s also found throughout the Mediterranean. The French call it “loup de mer”, Italians call it “branzino” and here in the west – it’s known as European sea bass. This fish is mostly farm-raised (rare to catch a wild one) and it’s a versatile fish that’s best grilled, great for sashimi use and wonderful roasted/baked.
Today’s dish is my ode to grilling fish in the summer with a yen for a golden-brown fish with crispy skin, fruity olive oil (Greek only please), lemon juice and undertones of briny Kalamata olives and caper berries.
Caper berries look similar to green olives and they do taste similar to the diminutive caper. The main difference being the size and the fact that the caper berries contain these tiny seeds that pop in your mouth with each chew. There’s a mellow undertone of anise with some fennel tossed into the mix and some dry white to help round out the sauce.
With Greek cuisine, a good olive oil, some fresh lemon juice and a little helps from herbs and seasoning in fact becomes the sauce. This all-in-one dish is a two -parter: roast the potatoes and vegetables in the first phase and then add the fish halfway through and your whole dish will be timed to come out perfectly cooked.
It’s now winter and tomatoes are hit & miss (more miss) but the hot-house tomatoes are still pretty good, cherry or grape tomatoes can be substituted or just substitute with a sweet red pepper.
Roasted Sea Bass With Potatoes & Fennel (Λαβράκι στο Φούρνο με Πατάτες & Μάραθο)
2 whole European sea bass (lavraki, branzino, loup de mer)
1/4 cup fennel fronds (half reserved for garnish)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
1 cup of fennel, root removed and thinly sliced
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of vegetable stock
1/2 Tbsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
extra coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper (to season fish)
4 Kalamata olives (pitted if you wish)
4 caper berries, rinsed
1/4 dry white wine
lemon wedges for garnish
Pre-heated 450F oven
- Peel and cut your potatoes in half (or quarter if the potatoes are large) and place in a deep baking dish. Add the sliced onion, chopped parsley and sliced fennel and then add the olive oil, lemon juice& zest plus stock. Toss to incorporate well and sprinkle some salt, add all the pepper and toss once again. Taste to see if the liquid has enough salt – adjust seasoning accordingly (be careful, more briny flavour will be added later with introduction of caper berries and olives).
- Now place the slices of tomatoes on top of the potato mixture and place in your pre-heated oven (middle rack) for 25 minutes. In the meantime, rinse and pat-dry your fish and drizzle the fish with olive oil and rub all over with your hands. Season the insides of the fish and the exterior with salt and pepper. Place half of your fennel fronds (2 Tbsp) into the cavities of the fish and set aside.
- Now place a small pot of water on your stove-top and bring to a boil. Now dunk the white (thick) part of your scallions into the boiling water 3 times to soften them. Now wrap each fish with two scallions and set aside.
- After 25 minutes, take your potatoes out of the oven and carefully place the fish on top. Sprinkle your olives and caper berries over the potatoes and pour the wine over the vegetables. Place the baking dish back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender and the fish is golden-brown. Top with reserved chopped fennel fronds.
- Remove the fish from the oven and carefully divide and plate the fish and potato mixture and spoon over some of the sauce in the baking dish. Serve with a lemon wedge, a side of boiled greens (Vlita) or winter salad.
- Serve with a Domaine Claudia Papayianni Alexandra white 2009 (Malagouzia).