Poached White Fish With Fennel, Tomato and Capers

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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.   

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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).

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Also give a rough chop to the anchovies.  

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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……

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…in a rather large cut, about 1/2 inch pieces, or thereabouts.

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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……

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……into a large dice.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • http://www.kalofagas.ca Peter

    Tina, this is a fabulous fish dish, healthy too! A generous toss of capers is always appreciated!

  • http://kopiaste.org Ivy

    It sounds like a very healthy and delicious recipe and I love fennel bulb with fish.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    You should email me the name of the food facility. Because I’m nosy and want to know. What’sinthebagwhat’sinthebagwhat’sinthebag, you know? Like, what place makes such good foods? What do you get to indulge in all day. That sort of thing.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    I just realized how creepy that must sound after telling you about my foreign country girl crush. Feel free to ignore my previous request, should you fear that I might appear outside your work someday smoking a cigar with a pistol and a vendetta.

  • http://muskegharpy.blogspot.com/ Jacquie

    That sounds like a great variation on my typical bacon-tomato braised halibut/cod. I always stare at the bottles of Pernod wanting to buy one so badly. Now I have an excuse!

  • Tara

    This has nothing to do with this meal, but I need help and I’m not patient enough to wait for an appropriate post.

    I took your advice and upgraded my feta cheese purchases. No longer do I buy those hanging bags of somewhat smelly feta! Now I buy it in a tub! It does taste better, you were right!

    My question is this (and don’t laugh at the cooking impairment that aflicts me) – what am I supposed to do with the “water” that the feta has collected? Am I supposed to attempt to stir it in? Or (please tell me this is right cause I already did it before I remembered I could ask you), can I just pour it off?

    Help!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Tara – I’m sorry to tell you this, but you do do not use the brine that feta is in. The ‘water’ is a simple salt water solution which is used to flavor and preserve the cheese while keeping it from getting dried out. Since feta is soft and unripened the shelf life is rather low, and it would dry out or go off if it was just sitting on it’s own. Saline is a natural preservative.

      Think of black olives (do you like olives?) – they either come packed in oil or in a salted brine. After you’ve eaten the olives the brine is usually discarded unless you repurpose it for something else…which isn’t always easy to do, although I sometimes add a bit if I’m brining meats because I like the flavor 😉 Because the brine for feta will have dairy in it, it’s less suitable to be repurposed because the risk of bacterial growth is much higher.

      SO…..yeah. When you buy feta in a tub or from the deli, keep it in the brine until you’ve used up all the feta. And then discard the brine. Hope that helps!!!!

      • http://www.amomentofweakness.blogspot.com Tara

        Ok, so I’ll just try to use this feta before it dries out and then NEXT time, I won’t pour off the brine.

        Thanks so much for your help, oh kitchen guru!

  • http://foodhappens.blogspot.com lo!

    Tina, Tina. I so rarely poach fish… I’ve suspected for a long while that I’m missing out. And I’m starting to suspect that it’s true.

  • http://www.noblepig.com/ noble pig

    Yeah and I come home from the store with like a billion other things too! This looks awesome and sounds like a good recipe!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Peter – why, thank you! I imagine that Greek cuisine likely has a similar dish with different seasonings. And I fully support people in saying YES to capers!

    Ivy – I love fennel bulb with ANYTHING!

    Kristie – ha, I would be more than happy for an international visitor to spice up my days! And if you need a pistol, don’t worry about bringing it over the border. Just stop by any of our public schools in Toronto, you can buy one from a kid named “Spizzo” for a reasonable price. As for my place of work, I’m don’t want to be the person to dooce herself, but I will tell you that we make cookies. Lots and lots (and lots) of cookies.

    Jacquie – you had me at bacon.

    Lo! – poached fish is so tender and delicate. I don’t do it as often as I should either, mostly because I love a nice caramelized crust. And I’ve been craving a miso-honey roasted cod for almost a week now. Why can’t I just get cravings for ‘chocolate’ or ‘potato chips’??

    Noble Pig – I love that you’re as much of a spontaneous shopper as I am. Sometimes it just can’t be helped though, right? And then your pantry gets filled with a million (useless) fascinating items that you would never have thought to buy!

  • http://diaryofafanaticfoodie.com Heather

    this sounds just amazing! i am not a fan of capers (weird quirk i guess) – but i love tomato and fennel. i would definitely be happy with this for dinner 🙂 mmmm.

  • http://dishingupdelights.blogspot.com Esi

    This is a beautiful dish, and really healthy too!

  • http://wayneandcindy.com Cindy

    Lovely! Yummy dish – I made this tonight, even though I had no Pernod or capers (which I like). It still turned out great. I needed a recipe with fish, fennel and tomatoes, and this fit the bill nicely. Very tasty! Hubby is happy! 🙂

    Now I must ask — roasted fennel and asiago dip?! Will you share, please? That sounds out-of-this-world!

    Thank you very much for this recipe – we will be enjoying it again for sure!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Cindy – How excellent that you made (and enjoyed!) this dish!! It’s so easy, isn’t it? I get so excited in a dog-head-out-the-car-window kind of way when people try and enjoy a recipe here.

      Fennel and asiago dip – I’ll put that on my list of posts to do in the next month or so! Ridiculously fatty, mind you, but fat means FLAVOR!!

  • Thomas

    You funny. I am totally trying this. I’m vegetarian, so I am gonna use cannelini beans instead of the fish. Of course I’ll leave out the anchovies.

    Ought to be good.

  • Rod

    Hi!

    Just cooked up this (substituted Kirsch/Vermouth for Pernod) and organic ketchup for tomatoes (added water to simulate real ones ;o).

    However, I used Coho Salmon instead of white fish (and some 31/40 farm raised shrimp as a “side” ;o).

    Delicious!!

    Thank You!

  • matina colombotos

    Who are you? I love your use of photos. So well done and very helpful. I’d love to see other recipes from you in this format. How do i access them….no matter what food it covers.
    Thanks, matina

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Matina – thank you so much for your comment! To access the other recipes, click on any of the pictures. You can also sort by category using the drop down, or by clicking on a particular tag at the bottom to see other recipes with the same tag. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Ejavier

    Thanks for sharing, I made this for dinner this evening and it was fab. Best of luck on your healthy eating focus – diets don’t work but making small changes does. Looking forward to more recipies.