Poached White Fish With Fennel, Tomato and Capers
Do you ever go to the store with the intention to buy one thing but come home with something completely different? Well, that is my story in two parts.
1) I went to the grocery store to buy fennel with which to make a roasted fennel and asiago dip for pita chips. I DID buy fennel, but I also bought some perfect and lovely vine ripened (god only knows where said vine was from, because it certainly wasn’t organic from Ontario) roma tomatoes. This made me think about how much we love poaching thick, meaty white fish filets in a brothy fennel and tomato stew, so the poor dip got deep sixed and I went to go buy some monkfish or cod filets instead.
2) On my way to the monkfish and cod filets, I got sidetracked by a cube freezer full of single serving fish filets for a dollar each. I don’t normally buy frozen fish if I can help it, but they were a dollar each. I took four. Don’t worry, monkfish. You and I will meet again another day.
Oh! And before I forget – PERNOD. Despite being scantily on the safe side of ‘raging alcoholic’, there are several things which I rarely drink. Pernod is one of them. However, our liquor cabinet still houses a fine bottle of France’s best which was liberated from Mike’s parent’s house in order to pay homage to my affinity for seafood. Pernod glazed scallops? Yes please! Linguine with salmon in a dilled cream sauce with Pernod? Well, I suppose, but only if I must. And poached fish in a mellow tomato and sweet fennel stew with briny capers? Okay, but only because you suggested it.
Poached White Fish With Fennel, Tomato and Capers
Serves 4. For real this time.
- 4 white fish filets (500 g, about 125 g each) *
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion
- 4 small oil packed anchovies
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes**
- 1 large fennel bulb
- 3 tbsp Pernod ***
- 4 roma tomatoes
- 2 tbsp capers
- salt and pepper to taste
* Any mild white fish filet will work, and I’m a particular fan of meaty white fish like monkfish, haddock, halibut, cod or hake. However, since certain thin filleted white fish happen to be much cheaper (such as sole or tilapia), why not try one of them on for size? And then when you’re serving it you can strike a pose and say, “Baby’s got SOLE!” Note: “Baby’s got TILAPIA” doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it.
** The heat or red chili flakes varies, and so do our individual tastes. I found that 1/2 tsp of our strong/hot red pepper flakes gives this dish just the right amount of heat, but if you like to mellow down easy and aren’t a fan of spicy foods, 1/4 tsp or less would probably do you fine.
***Pernod is distilled in a very similar way to the nefarious(ly delicious) absinthe. Many people think of Pernod as both the predecessor and antecedent of absinthe, because the original Pernod recipe also contained wormwood (a hallucinogen which was later outlawed by the French), but after they were shut down the ‘new’ Pernod was simply an anisette flavored liqueur. The drink itself has strong herbal undertones, reminiscent of black licorice, fennel seed, and cardamom. If you can’t find Pernod, there are so many suitable substitutes like pastis, ouzo, arak, anisette, raki, aqavit, ricard, or even sambuca in a pinch.
Peel the onion and give it a good fine dice. Chop the garlic as well, but no need to be too particular on this one. A nice slow cooking will take care of whatever ail’s you (that was a French joke, for those of you who care).
Also give a rough chop to the anchovies.
Warm the olive oil over medium low heat in the largest saucepan that you have. Add the onion, garlic, anchovies and hot pepper flakes. Start to sweat the onions et al out until they’re semi-translucent and starting to soften. In the meantime, chop the fennel bulb……
…in a rather large cut, about 1/2 inch pieces, or thereabouts.
When the onions are semi-translucent, add the fennel and let this continue to cook for 5 minutes until the fennel has started to soften just slightly. Add in the Pernod and give it a stir. Let this cook for a several minutes while you chop the tomatoes……
……into a large dice.
Add the tomatoes and let this cook together, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until the tomatoes are mostly broken down and have released most of their juices. It should look stewy but not soupy. If it looks too soupy, raise the heat to medium and let it cook (still uncovered) for another 5 minutes until some of the liquid is absorbed or evaporated.
Add the capers and give everything a quick stir to combine.
Using a large shallow spoon or wooden spoon, make 4 indents into the top of the tomato-fennel mixture. Lay one piece of fish on each and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you have a really thin filet (like I did), fold them in half before laying them on the mix. And yes, I took this picture before sprinkling with salt and pepper. I’m wicked that way.
Cover the pan and let the contents steep away for 5-7 minutes for a thin filet like sole or tilapia, and 7-9 minutes for a thicker filet like monkfish or halibut.
The fish is cooked when the edges have tightened up and the thinnest parts will flake easily with a fork. I’m not a fan of overcooked fish, so I tend to gauge ‘doneness’ in the center by texture: it should be firm, but definitely not crumbly. And despite what you may have read in the past, if the thickest part of your filet flakes easily with a fork? It’s probably overdone.
Spoon out the tomato and fennel mixture, and place a piece of fish on top. Serve with plenty of crusty bread to mop up those fabulously delicious tomato-fennel juices.
Healthy, delicious, and hardy – as far as fish goes. More importantly, poaching fish in a flavorful vegetable stew like this one is easy to do and perfect for a weeknight dinner. Because, let’s be honest, by the time that Wednesday rolls around, I’ve lost any ambition that I might have once had.
This lowfat and veggie-rich dish is also a perfect fit for me right now, because I’ve been putting on weight like it’s going out of style. I realized something critical last week: for the most part, I don’t make unhealthy food. I make nourishing and relatively low fat food. But I also work in a food manufacturing facility, and the products that we make AREN’T always low fat…in fact, none of them are. And I spend 8-10 hours a day munching on our delicious, fatty products. And I’m getting fat. Very fat. Alarmingly fat. So maybe it’s time for me to stop taking coffee breaks at work, and focus on the fact that when I get home dinner will be a simple, delicious, and heart healthy meal that I can be proud of.
But this will be hard, because our delicious baked goods are….delicious.