Black Sea Bass with Melted Fennel and Preserved Lemon
Ethan Bier, chef at Marciano Estate winery in St. Helena, California, cooks his recipe with a fruity extra-virgin olive oil and finishes with the estate’s more robust (and award-winning) Massiglia oil. Any mild white fish—such as halibut, snapper, or grouper—works well here.
2 medium fennel bulbs (1 lb. total), trimmed and cored (save fronds)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium shallot, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig each fresh thyme and rosemary
1/4 cup anise-flavor liqueur such as Pernod; or 1⁄4 cup white wine plus 1⁄4 tsp. ground fennel
1 cup bottled clam juice or fish stock
1 preserved lemon*, thinly sliced, or zest of 1 lemon
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup pitted mixed olives
1 1/2 pounds black sea bass fillets (4 fillets, each 6 oz., if possible)
1 lemon, cut into wedges
How to Make It
Roughly slice fennel bulbs into 1-in. pieces. Coarsely chop enough fronds to make 2 tbsp. and set aside.
In a large, deep frying pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced fennel, shallot, and herbs; season lightly with salt; and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add Pernod and simmer until slightly reduced; then add clam juice, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until fennel is very tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir preserved lemon into fennel mixture and top with cherry tomatoes and olives. Lightly salt fish and set on top of vegetables. Cover and simmer gently until fish is just slightly opaque in center, 10 to 15 minutes.
Carefully transfer fish and vegetables to a large platter and pour half of pan juices around them. Top with reserved fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges and the remaining pan juices.
*Find preserved lemon at well-stocked grocery stores.