A new year, full of promise, of hopes to be fulfilled. All possible on a clear sunny day tinged with a winter chill. The odd fluffy black cloud edging by. Silver linings all of them as they scurried out to sea over the horizon. What lies ahead? Short term, an equally silvery sea bream steamed on bushels of fennel from a wayside walk. Happy New Year!
Smudge the Bistro cat, so ill last year that she lost two more ‘lives’, sees in another year (she’s 15) with delight! Stalking my sea bream. Sniffing the herb garden fennel. Giving my ankles a friendly nip. Not a moment to lose then in taking the photos. 40-minutes of tantilising scents wafting from the oven despite the tightly bunched papillote of foil. And then a rush to eat as she finds any way possible to scale the table top. A morsel her way, we relax into our new year’s fare. A perfect meal to start afresh with; delicate, steamed fish infused with fresh fennel.
Imagine, end December into early January and we’re dining al fresco in Malta. The light is amazing this time of year. Meal ended, the shadows deepen, the chill sets in quickly now. Wood smoke filters through the air. Time to hurry in and light our fire too, settle on the sofa and enjoy the coziness of Bistro cat as an over blanket. All fed, watered, wined, dined and happy. A good way to welcome in 2013.
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
Sea bream & fennel en papillotes
one sea bream per person (medium sized, de-scaled, gutted, rinsed and dried inside)
a good 2-3 handfuls of fluffy fennel tops
2 lemons (zest first, then slice)
mustard seeds (or fennel seed, coriander too if you wish)
several glugs of extra virgin olive oil
several glugs of white wine
sea salt and fresh-milled black pepper
You will need aluminium foil or baking parchment doubled and made into packets to house each fish sealed, or cook all fish together in one giant papillote as I did. If you have guests, individual ones are more attractive to serve.
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Make up foil or baking paper packets (papillotes). Lay a good handful of fennel in each, then place the bream on top. Zest the lemon then place lemon slices in the open belly of the fish, along with some mustard seeds and lemon zest. Toss more seeds and zest over the fish, adding a few lemon slices on top. If you have the whole fennel, slice up and place inside the fish too. (We picked wild fennel tops only for this recipe, but if you buy fennel in the supermarket, you’ll have the bulb to use more than tops). Then, drizzle over olive oil, and a few glugs of white wine. The fish needs enough moisture to steam in but not to be floating in liquid! Place papillotes on a baking tray with a couple of centimetres depth. Bake for around 40 minutes. Check the fish carefully with a sharp knife to see if the flesh is cooked. Large bream may take longer so ensure you check the underside as well. When ready, serve each papillote on individual plates, or carefully serve fish from the same giant packet, trying not to puncture the silvery skin. Add some simple salad such as rocket to garnish on the plate, and serve with lightly-steamed seasonal vegetables of choice. We had some potato wedges with it and the rocket. Fish on fennel; a simple, quick and easy on a day to enjoy not slave over the stove at after all!