Something crazy happened when I walked into Mutual Fish at the weekend. I went there with Copper River Salmon money. Yep, that stuff ain’t the cheapest fish in the store. But, and this is a big but, I walked straight past it. It looked amazing, but at this point no where near as good as some of the most beautiful white fish I have ever seen. Striped Bass.
I have cooked Striped before, but it was a long time ago. I could tell this was new and very fresh to Mutual Fish. They normally have these well made signs for the fish, but this fish’s sign was just scrawled on a piece of paper, and stuck to the glass of the fish cabinet. This looked seriously good. I haven’t been this excited about a fish for a long time. Just so you know.. I am crazy about fish 24/7.. this was a new level of crazy. I didn’t think that was possible for me.
So what is so great about this fish? Well, the flesh and the skin. The flesh is slightly sweet, very delicate, flakes well and is a great base for sauces with gusto. The skin is just something else. Pretty thick, and beautifully striped with black and silver. This is THE skin to eat. This requires some pretty serious crisping to make it perfect.
Since this fish is so great with strong flavors, I wanted something that was robust, but delicate enough to not overshadow the fish. Tomatoes. More specifically, roasted Italian plum tomatoes. These little suckers get made into a great rustic tomato sauce, and paired with some wonderfully tender, slightly smokey grilled fennel.
And to top it off? Olive tapenade, with anchovies added. To kick that fish note forward a bit.
This was one that I was so excited to make. I normally come up with a menu for the week on Friday or Saturday, and that includes planning out the cook-fest that is Sunday. I had thought about roasted tomatoes since Friday night.. 2 days to wait till I cooked them. Bastards! There is just something amazing about roasting tomatoes. The few hours they are in the oven, they just completely change. They go from a delicate taste, to this highly concentrated flavor and fill the house with the most amazing tomato smell. The hardest part is the wait. Scratch that.. The hardest thing is to not eat the whole baking tray load when it comes straight out of the oven.
This was just perfect for a warm, sunny day. We spent most of it outside in the garden, and this was just the perfect food for the start of summer. Delicate enough and light enough for hot weather, but robust enough to give some serious flavor.
Oh.. and I got an email last week, asking how I manage to setup and take photos with a toddler running around. Well, it isn’t easy! Thankfully, Danika does an amazing job of keeping him away from anything expensive and breakable! He was completely infatuated with these roasted tomatoes though…
Pan Roasted Striped Bass, roasted tomato puree, grilled fennel and olive/anchovy tapanade
1lb Striped Bass
12 Roma tomatoes
1/3 medium yellow onion – diced
1 clove of garlic – diced
1 small glass of dry white wine
8 fl oz of vegetable stock (approximate)
10 sprigs of oregano – leaves removed and coarsely chopped
3 bulbs of fennel
sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of handfuls of pitted olives – either nicoise or kalamata
1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of finely chopped chives
1 small handful of capers
1/2 teaspoon of good Dijon vinegar
Really good olive oil
3 small anchovy fillets
salt and pepper
Start with roasting the tomatoes. Put your oven to 275F. Cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the core, removing the seeds as well. Cover a baking sheet with non-stick parchment paper. Toss the tomatoes in a little olive oil. Lay out the tomatoes, cut side up, on the parchment paper covered baking sheet. Sprinkle each tomato with a little sea salt, pepper and oregano (save half the oregano for later). Put this in your oven for about 3 hours. After the first hour, check on them every 25 minutes or so. We want them to shrivel right down, but we don’t want them to burn. Take them out when they have shriveled up, but aren’t close to being burnt (a couple of charred edges are fine).
When they are roasted, if you aren’t going to use them straight away, let them cool and then pop them in a storage container, and cover them with olive oil. When you are ready to use them, take them out of the oil, and pat with a paper towel to get most of the oil off. This left over oil is great drissled on a salad.
Now to make the tomato sauce. In a medium saucepan heat a little olive oil. Add in the onion and the garlic. Cook slowly until soft. Toss in the rest of the oregano, turn up the heat and add the wine. Let this cook down until the alcohol smell is gone, and the wine is reduced by about half. Add in the vegetable stock, and turn down the heat to medium. Add all the roasted tomatoes. Cook this covered for about 20 minutes, until it has reduced and thickened, and is really smelling of tomatoes. Puree this in either a food processor or blender. A food processor will give you a chunkier sauce, the blender will make it smoother. If you want to be really dainty, you can remove the skins of the tomatoes before you put them into the stock.. but this isn’t strictly necessary since we are blending the sauce.
Lets think about the tapenade. Break out the food processor. Put in the olives anchovies and capers. A few pulses should chop these up pretty good. Don’t go crazy – we still want some texture here. Spoon this all out into a bowl. Add in the parsley, chives and dijon mustard. Give a few good grinds of pepper, and a pinch of sea salt. Gently mix. Pour in a couple of tablespoons of the really good olive oil. Mix. You don’t want to add too much so that it becomes really loose.
Now for the fennel. Remove the outer sheathes of each fennel bulb. Cut 1/8” off the root end, and trim off the stalks. Stand a fennel bulb up on its cut root end. Slice the fennel bulb vertically into 1/4” thick slices. Repeat for all bulbs.
Get a large pot of water boiling. Prepare an ice water bath. When the water is boiling well, add a little salt and put in the fennel. Cook these for a few minutes until just tender. Remove and plunge into the ice bath. Allow to completely cool, then remove and pat dry. Toss in a little oil.
Preheat oven to 375. Heat your BBQ/grill to high. Get a medium pan hot. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Put your fish in skin side down, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the skin is really crispy. Turn the fish over, and transfer the pan to the oven. You are going to want to bake this for about 8 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through and flaky.
Whilst the fish is in the oven, put the fennel on the grill. Grill on each side for about 3 minutes – just until you get decent grill marks, and a slightly smokey taste to them.
Reheat the tomato sauce.
To plate: Spoon a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce into the center of a plate. Use the back of the spoon to spread this into a circle. Gently stack up half of the fennel on top of this, trying to make a flat platform for the fish. Very carefully put one piece of fish on top of the fennel, and top the fish with a teaspoon of tapenade. Repeat for a second plate.
And finally.. Want to know the best way to get a really crispy skin on your fish? Stay tuned…. The next post will be about cooking fish with a perfectly crispy skin.