A variation on the mackerel and blood orange from a few days ago. I think perhaps it's that annual January craving for food that is fresh, colourful, healthy and has a bit of a kick to it that keeps me lusting after the combination of fish and fruit. Odd, seeing as I'd normally say those two ingredients shouldn't be put together, except perhaps in the instance of mackerel with rhubarb. However, I tried a Gordon Ramsay recipe for sea bass with fennel and orange once, and my new Michel Roux cookbook has a nice recipe for sea bass with citrus salad, so my idea of pairing the delicate fish with a salad of fennel, pomegranate and blood orange does have sanction from people who know about such things.
Having rhapsodised about the beauty of fresh mackerel a few days ago, I must say that a whole sea bass is also a rather fine thing. Less firm and smooth, and without those beautiful black and silver markings, but still in possession of a delicate grace of its own. I bought farmed fish; had I managed to afford a whole, wild specimen I would probably have done nothing more to it than grilled it with some lemon and thyme. However, the cooked flesh of sea bass can handle the assertive flavours of fennel and orange, provided it is seasoned with lots of salt and pepper and then grilled to produce a lovely, flavoursome, crispy skin.
For the salad, I sliced a bulb of fennel into wafer thin sheets, using one of my exciting new kitchen gadgets: the mandolin. Slightly hazardous to use, it cuts vegetables and fruit into slices almost as thin as paper; just right for a delicate salad where you don't want to crunch down on big chunks of aniseedy fennel. I mixed this with the segments of two blood oranges, and their juice, and the seeds of half a pomegranate. To finish, a handful of chopped dill, and lots of salt and pepper.
The flavour is sharp, fresh, and immensely palate-cleansing. The aniseed notes work very well with the fish; fish and dill or fish and fennel are a classic combination. The pomegranate seeds give a little burst of sweetness that stops the orange being too sharp; blood oranges are rather sharper than regular ones. If you use normal ones, add a squeeze of lemon juice, or just omit the pomegranates (though they do look pretty).
For the fish itself, just make a few shallow slashes in the skin, and rub in some salt, pepper and chopped rosemary (not too much, but a little bit is wonderfully subtle and really enhances the flavour of the fish somehow). Tuck a few lemon slices inside the belly of the fish, and a sprig of dill, place on an oiled baking sheet and put under a fairly hot grill (180-200C) for about five minutes on each side (you can easily check for done-ness by pulling the flesh gently apart where you've slashed the skin).
Put the fish on a plate, and serve with a big mound of crunchy salad, and - if the idea of a meal without carbohydrates disturbs you (I admit, it does unsettle me a little) - a big dish of potato wedges. Just cut a regular baking potato and a sweet potato into wedges, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and some dried herbs (thyme and rosemary are good), and roast at 200C for about 45 minutes, turning once.
Thanks to Jon for the photos.