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Whole Striped Bass with Fennel and Tomato

Whole Striped Bass with Fennel and Tomato
A whole roasted fish not only makes a dramatic presentation but also is particularly flavorful because it is roasted on the bone. Fennel fronds, basil and garlic are placed in the cavity to perfume the fish as it cooks. Ask your fishmonger to clean and scale the fish, leaving the head on or removing it, as you prefer. If striped bass is unavailable, red snapper, sea bass or bream is a good substitute. The skin of the cooked fish is edible—and quite tasty—but diners may remove it by lifting it away with a table knife.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole striped bass or sea bass, 1 1/2 to
      2 lb., cleaned
  • 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 large fennel bulb, about 1 lb.
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 4 to 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
      leaves
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. dry white wine
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely
      chopped

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 425°F. Generously oil the bottom of a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold the fish.

Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. Cut 3 or 4 vertical slashes to the bone in each side of the fish. Brush the outside with 1 tsp. of the olive oil. Sprinkle the outside and the cavity with salt and pepper.

Cut off the fronds from the fennel bulb and place 3 or 4 of them in the cavity. Trim off the stems from the bulb, then cut the bulb in half lengthwise and cut out the tough core portion. Using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, slice the fennel bulb halves lengthwise paper-thin. Alternatively, cut the fennel with a sharp knife or a mandoline. Place the sliced fennel in a small bowl, add the remaining 3 tsp. olive oil and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.

Place 2 or 3 lemon slices, half of the garlic, half of the basil and half of the parsley in the fish cavity. Lay the fish in the prepared pan and arrange the remaining lemon slices on top. Scatter the reserved fennel slices and the remaining garlic slices around the fish. Drizzle the wine over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper.

Roast the fish for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter the tomatoes around the fish. Continue to roast until the fish is opaque to the bone when one of the slashes in the thickest part is opened with a fork, about 10 minutes more. Remove the pan from the oven and, using 2 large spatulas, carefully transfer the fish to a large platter. Discard the lemon slices from the top.

Check the vegetables in the roasting pan to see if the fennel is tender. If it is not, heat the vegetables for a few minutes over medium heat on the stovetop. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Spoon the fennel, tomatoes and garlic around the fish. Coarsely chop the remaining parsley, then finely shred the remaining basil.

Place the platter on the table. Starting near the center of the back, use a thin-bladed knife to loosen the top fillet from the backbone. Then, using a spatula, transfer it to a warmed individual plate. (If you are dividing the fish into 3 servings, divide the fillet accordingly.) Lift out and discard the backbone, then remove and discard the contents of the cavity. Transfer the remaining fillet to a warmed plate. Scatter the basil and parsley over the vegetables, dividing them evenly among the plates. Serve immediately. Serves 2 or 3.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Roasting, by Rick Rodgers, Melanie Barnard & Bob & Colleen Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2004).