sautéed sea bass, tomato/olive salsa, dill; braised fennel

It was a very hot afternoon, and the bass lying on ice inside the fisher’s plexiglas-top display case at Saturday’s Down to Earth Farmers Market on 23rd Street caught my eye. Even though we’d enjoyed some only 2 weeks earlier, it’s a fine fish and I knew I’d be able to cook these filets on top of the gas range, so they came home with me.

We got along very well.

  • the preparations began with a salsa, assembled about 30 minutes in advance inside a small bowl, which incorporated one cup of a mix of halved red and golden cherry tomatoes from Alex’s Tomato Farm, about half a cup of pitted and halved kalamata olives from Whole Foods Market, a little crushed dried peperoncino Calabresi secchia from Buon Italia, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, a pinch of crushed dried golden/orange habanada pepper, and a little olive oil, the mix set aside while the fish was cooked: four 4.5-ounce black sea bass fillets from American Seafood Company, seasoned on both sides with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, sautéed over a fairly brisk flame in a little Mac Nut  macademia nut oil from Whole Foods Market inside a large enameled cast iron pan, skin side down, turned after about 2-3 minutes, the other side cooked for about the same length of time, removed to 2 plates when done, 2 tablespoons of butter added to the pan and allowed to melt, a couple tablespoons of chopped spearmint from Keith’s Farm and chopped parsley from John D. Madura Farms then tossed in, along with a tablespoon or more of Whole Foods Market organic lemon juice, and stirred into the butter for a few seconds, the sauce spooned on top of the bass, the salsa set aside earlier arranged in a cascade between the filets, and both fish and salsa garnished with some wonderful pungent dill flowers from Windfall Farms
  • two whole, integral spring fennel bulbs from Alewife Farm, washed, the stems removed, trimmed of their fronds (the finest chopped and set aside) and cut into one-inch lengths, the bulbs themselves, cut into wedges, the stem sections sautéed for a few minutes over medium high heat with half a tablespoons of dry Sicilian fennel seeds, the bulb wedges following, along with a sliced young, or spring onion bulb from Berried Treasures Farm, until the pieces had all begun to color, the heat then lowered, the pan covered and the fennel cooked for another 10 minutes, maybe less, or until softened, the reserved fronds added at the end
  • the wine was a California (Santa Lucia Highlands/Monterey County) rosé, 99 Barrels Derek Rohlffs Santa Lucia Highlands Rosé, from Naked Wines
  • the music was an album we had first enjoyed almost 2 years ago, a superb performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s 1733 opera, ‘Motezuma’, Alan Curtis conducting Il Complesso Barocco, with Vito Priante, Marijana Mijanovic, Inga Kalna, Roberta Invernizzi, Romina Basso, Maité Beaumont, et al. [as I wrote then, the synopsis of this rendering of the historical Cortez-Montezuma encounter describes a totally unhistorical shappy ending for the Aztec imperial couple that reminded me of the charming fantasies Melina Mercouri maintained in the film, ‘Never on Sunday‘, about the happy denouements of all of the Greek tragedies: “And then they all go together to the seashore!”