Fish and fennel

By Jessica – May 24th, 2006

If asked to rate my favorite flavors in order of preference, licorice and anise would be at the very bottom of the list (where they would be vying with tarragon for last place). And yet, here I find myself endorsing a dish which revolves around that most licorice-y of vegetables: fennel.

Sliced fennelI credit my good friend and former upstairs neighbor with convincing me that cooking fennel in tomatoes really tames its licorice bite and leaves it mellow and fresh-tasting. And I have to credit Anthony Worral Thompson with the backbone of this particular recipe, which involves sautéing fennel in olive oil and then finishing it in a rich Mediterranean-inspired sauce which pairs beautifully with a tender white fish.

I’ve made this recipe twice. The first time, I used fennel, eggplant (aubergine) and a red pepper simply because that’s what I had in the fridge. The second time around, I used a green pepper in place of the eggplant. I liked it better with the eggplant, though Jeremy thought it was equally good without. To be honest, it would be fine with the fennel alone; I just like having a jumble of different vegetables to make things more interesting.

Chopped vegetablesYou can use any sort of firm white fish you like. I’ve made this with halibut and sea bass*, and both were lovely. Since the fish essentially steams on the bed of vegetables, it stays incredibly moist. Fish cooked this way is delicious, but it’s not really an essential part of the recipe—so if you’re vegetarian, just skip the fish, simmer the vegetables on the stovetop until they’re as soft as you like them, and toss them with some pasta. It will make an equally yummy dinner.

This recipe makes more than enough for two people:

Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole/Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sliced fennel and sauté until it starts to brown and soften, about 10 minutes. Remove the fennel, then sauté the pepper until it starts to soften (again, about 10 minutes). Remove the pepper and sauté the eggplant until it starts to soften (yes, about 10 minutes), then remove the eggplant as well. Add more olive oil to the pot in between each batch of vegetables if you need to. And don’t be put off by cooking the vegetables separately like this—it’s not really much hassle, and everything will cook better if it has room in the pot (if you just dump all the veggies in at once, they’ll stew in their own juices rather than be nicely sautéed).

Sautéed vegetables

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Pour in the wine and simmer until it’s slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, oregano and salt and pepper to taste and simmer, covered, about 15-20 minutes, in order to soften the garlic and let the flavors meld. Then add all the vegetables and balsamic vinegar and heat through.

Uncooked fish on vegetablesWhile the sauce is cooking on the stove, preheat the oven to 200C (390F). When the oven’s ready, season the fish filets with salt and pepper and lay them on top of the vegetables. Drizzle them with some olive oil and sprinkle over some fennel fronds and fresh basil, then cover the casserole and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, until fish is cooked through.

I reckon you could skip the oven bit and just cook the whole dish over low heat on the stovetop, covered, after putting in the fish. But I like using the oven because 1) the ambient heat of the oven prevents things from burning to the bottom of the casserole, and 2) it gets the pot out of the way so you can do whatever else you might need to do—like cook some pasta to soak up all that delicious, rich tomato sauce.

Cooked fish on fennel

*For good, fresh, local fish in Brighton, it’s worth heading down to the seafront and visiting either Nigel Sayers (198 King’s Road Arches) or the Sea Haze shop (207 King’s Road Arches).


Another nice way to eat fennel with white fish (or scallops) is to slice it, raw, paper thin (you might need one of those Japenese slicing machine thingies [] and some spare fingers) and make a dressing of lemon, salt, pepper, touch of garlic and chopped fennel herb picked from the top of the vegetable to mix it in… nothing more.

Fennel actually comes high up on my list of favourites.

P.S sorry that Wikipedia link has turned out wrong, it’s there somwhere, a picture of a Japanese mandolin.

Jamie Oliver has a nice take on fennel, roasted with baby tomatoes and lots of olive oil, olives and even an oul breast of chicken thrown in on top. It’s easy and tasty and is the only recipe I know for cooking fennel…until now!!

Don’t cook it for the older folk though - I did it for my parents and they were looking for the spuds to go with it!!

Looking forward to hearing you talk at Reboot. A fellow Irisher.

Fennel is at the bottom of my list of foods. But this recipe sounds yummy i will give it ago. Sam

# Posted by Sam Bailey on

What a stroke of luck coming across your recipe! I just returned home from a week in Alaska, bringing home 50 lbs. of beautiful halibut. I didn’t have fennel on hand, but found it very easy to adapt what I did have fresh from my garden. Summer Squash, zucchini, egg plant, bell peppers, onion. I saute’d them one at a time as you suggested (brilliant!) and, instead of fresh tomatoes, I added a pint of my own homemade italian tomato sauce. I topped the simmering veggies with the tender white halibut fillets for only 5 minutes and the results were amazing. We couldn’t stop commenting on how yummy it was. Thank you for posting this recipe. If I ever start a blog, I would love to post your link to this recipe.

Ooh, I envy you both your week in Alaska and your 50 pounds of fresh halibut, Lynnda. :-) I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe!

# Posted by Jessica on

In order to feel the flavor of ingredients, the combination of ingredients, the sauce is mixed well I think. Simple recipes and ingredients to cook fun Would not be easy to buy? haha ~ ~

Wow…..I am so pleased I found your recipie and it was by complete accident !! I realy love experimenting with new dishes and having bought ….. for the first time ever, a fish called Tilapia from Tesco in Carlisle, Cumbria ….I was looking for ideas of how to cook it. Knowing that Fennel is always a ‘fail safe’ with fish I found your recipie and it was absolutely fab. with this fish that looks similar to Red Mullet. I then believe it or not….went on to make the same recipie using a fresh Octopus from Tesco and again it was absolutely delicious, having experimented I am now going to have a dinner party using the Octopus as a starter and the Tilapia as the main course ….thanks for a brilliant recipie !!

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