Fennel adds subtle flavor to grilled sea bass

August 02, 1998|By Annette Gooch | Annette Gooch,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Mesquite, maple, hickory - the aromatic woods that give barbecued meats their robust character - can overpower fish. A more subtle method of flavoring the fire for grilled fish pairs it with fennel.

Bulb fennel does double duty at a fish grill: Tossed onto the coals, the trimmings - the tough outer ribs and feathery-tipped stalks - release flavorful smoke into the fish while the edible bulb grills alongside it. Fennel's crunchy texture softens and its anise flavor mellows as it cooks.

Grilling times for both fennel and fish depend on the size and thickness of the portions and the heat of the coals. Fennel is done when lightly charred all over. The fish is done when it feels just firm (not taut) when lightly pressed with fingertips. Overcooked fish feels hard and dry; undercooked fish feels soft and springy.

Tips:

* To reduce sticking when grilling fish, have coals very hot. Preheat grill rack or basket 5 minutes. Oil rack lightly just before adding fish; set rack 4 to 6 inches above coals.

* To turn fish on the grill without breaking it, use a hinged grill basket or two broad, long-handled spatulas. Turn fish only once.

Cole Publishing Group

Fennel-Grilled Sea Bass

Serves 8

8 sea bass fillets (about 8 ounces each and at least 1 inch thick)

10 tablespoons olive oil

10 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 large fennel bulbs with stalks and leaves

fennel leaves, for garnish

lemon wedges, for garnish

Place fish in a glass baking dish. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Brush about half of the mixture over fish.

Trim fennel, removing outer ribs, stalks and tough base of bulb. Cut bulb lengthwise into quarters. Brush with some of the olive oil mixture.

Prepare a very hot charcoal fire. When coals are coated with gray ash, place fennel trimmings directly on them. Let smoke die down slightly, then add fish and fennel. Grill fish, turning once, until done (approximately 3 to 5 minutes on each side). Grill fennel, turning frequently, until lightly charred all over. Baste fish and fennel with remaining olive oil mixture. Transfer to warm plates and garnish with fennel leaves and lemon wedges.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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