wild sea bass with herbs

last friday night, someone got stabbed at the end of our road. i initially thought (and wrote here) that it must be the kids at it again. somehow, that doesn't worry me so much. i just think: london. it happens. it's completely insane that kids of 15 carry knives but there you go. as long as we don't legalise guns, i suppose.

but the bbc news said it was a 34 year old bloke who got stabbed in front of his girlfriend and his two kids. he's okay, apparently, though he can't have been that okay considering the number of policemen and women who were hanging around for almost a day. whoever stabbed him just ran off. 

and then you think - if this is random, it could have been me. what a remarkably stupid, pointless way that would have been to die. imagine surviving a war (albeit only ten days of it) and then getting killed by some kid with a stupid hat and trousers slung too low? i mean, i couldn't bear the irony of it. like someone we went to school with (best student of our generation; extra spoddy but very nice with it), who was in sarajevo for the duration of the seige, then got killed when the swiss air plane on which she was travelling to some conference of physics boffins dropped out of the sky on the way to the US. shocking. i think it's for the same reason i'm a bit wary of fast driving. from sarajevo to a death on a b road in leicestershire - not very glamorous, is it?

so when we went to get the fish from steve hatt's on saturday morning, we had to walk around the police tape. actually we walked under the tape thinking it was all over and promptly got told off by a very stern policewoman. we felt like two naughty children and even thinking about it now makes me smart with shame. 

r thought we should try cooking wild bass because it looked nice. we toyed with the idea of filleting and pan-frying it but a lot of the recipes we found suggest baking it, so that's what we did in the end. i imagine you can cook most similar fish in the same way. it's a jamie oliver recipe which worked perfectly apart from the cooking times. we found we had to increase the time by at least 15 minutes as it was completely raw when we first took it out of the oven. my advice is to check after a while and see how it's getting on. 

what i particularly liked about it - and it was a revelation to me - was how well the red onion and the fennel worked together - both visually, as you end up with pale pink against the pastel green, and in terms of taste, as the red onion ends up almost perfumed. i think the slices of both have to be really thin for this to work as only then will they cook so quickly. 

for two

1 sea bass, scaled and gutted, approx 800g
1 small red onion, very finely sliced (use a mandolin if you have one)
1 bulb fennel, very finely sliced - save the leafy tops and use as herbs, see below
1 1/2 lemons
2 generous handfuls of soft herbs (parsley, bay leaf, basil, dill, fennel tops - use one or a mix of what you like. we used flat leaf parsley and bay leaves)
1 tsp fennel seeds
salt and pepper
olive oil

pre-heat the oven to 220C. tear a piece of foil about 5 times as long as your fish. fold it over so you get a double layer to make it stronger. place the sliced onion in the middle, and layer the fennel over it. put the fish on top, season it both inside and out with salt, pepper and the fennel seeds. squeeze one lemon over it and place the other half, cut up into chunks, around the fish. douse the fish and the veg with a few good glugs of olive oil. close up the foil, making sure it's all tightly scrunched up so that the fish steams inside.

place the fish in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. leave to rest for five minutes before tucking in.


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