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Grilled Seabass on Spinach and Griddled Fennel with a Pernod Crème Fraiche Sauce

This recipe comes from Chef Jim Fisher who now runs cooking holidays in the Dordogne.

If you would like to know more about Jim and how he gained his love of cooking why not have a look at his biography page <click here>

To find out more about the cooking holidays in France at Jim's cooking school in the Dordogne you will need to visit his web site <click here>

Jim said about this recipe:

This is a very expensive recipe. Someone paid me £5000 to cook it for them. That someone was Rick Stein. Well, he didn't exactly pay me, but you have to admit it sounds good. The occasion was, of course, a competition. A competition to impress Rick Stein with an original fish dish, no less.

The Final was held at Rick's Seafood Restaurant in Cornwall. At the time, I was in the desperate embrace of full-blown pneumonia. So tanked up was I by heaven knows how many drugs, potions, antibiotics and steroids that I wasn't even nervous. In fact, I don't even know if I was actually there!

I had lost all sense of taste and smell, so I could have been cooking skunk in order to impress Grisly Adams!

Incredibly, I won first prize, though more by luck than judgement. I suppose what saved me was all the practice I'd put in prior to the event.

To add insult to injury, all the contestants and journos were treated to a meal with Rick at his restaurant, but I couldn't taste any of it. Paying customers are put on a three month waiting list and hand over vast wads of dosh for a meal at the most famous seafood restaurant in the British Isles, and here I was, on a freebee, sitting next to the great man himself, eating Lobster with Lime Butter Vinaigrette and it tasted like Ready Brek!

I eventually recovered from the pneumonia, but was never quite able to adjust to the injustice of that day (the five grand helps, though).

Seabass is my favourite fish - small firm flakes of juicy flesh that tastes of the sea. Try to get your fishmonger to fillet the fish, and have it scaled really well because you can then eat the skin, if you want. Oh, and the fillets must be pin-boned, ie; all the little lateral bones need pulling out with tweezers. You will also need a good quality real fish stock for this. Packet stuff won't do, but a good chicken stock will manage at a push - it won't taste as good, though.


400ml (14 fl oz / 2 cups) reduced fish stock
100ml (3 fl oz / half cup) good quality dry white wine
1 tbsp Noilly Prat
2 tbsp Pernod or Pastis, plus a little extra
200ml (7 fl oz / three quarter cup) crème fraiche
2 ripe plum tomatoes
1 tbsp fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 bulbs fennel
a football-sized bundle fresh spinach leaves, rinsed and stalks removed
eight seabass fillets, prepared as above
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


The Sauce:

  • Put the fish stock, dry white wine, Noilly Prat and Pernod in a medium saucepan. Heat over a medium flame and allow to reduce by a third.
  • By this time, the alcohol will have been driven off, so you can now whisk in the crème fraiche. Reduce a little more.
  • Taste the sauce - it should be deep, intense, highly aromatic and have a good aniseed flavour. Add a dash more Pernod - a mere thimble- full - to pump up the aniseed.
  • Season with sea salt - no pepper - then turn off the heat and put a lid on to prevet a skin forming.
  • Cut the tomato into quarters, remove the seeds and pulp, then dice. Roughly chop the parsley.

The Fennel:

  • Trim the fennel of its base and fronds. Peel away and discard the tough outer layers, then halve lengthwise. Cut each half into eight segments, making sure each one retains a little bit of the stalk - this will help keep the layers together as the segments cook.
  • Place into a pan of rapidly boiling salted water, then simmer for five minutes or so until tender, but still 'al dente'. Drain, then season lightly with salt and pepper.
  • Bring a cast iron ridged grill pan to a good smoking heat. Brush with a little oil, then grill the fennel segments on each side until nicely marked.

The Spinach:

  • Dunk the rinsed and trimmed spinach leaves into a large pan of boiling water for thirty seconds to wilt the leaves. Strain, then refresh in plenty of cold water.
  • Strain again, this time allowing all the water to drain from the spinach.
  • In a medium pan over a gentle heat, toss the spinach with a little oil, some salt and some pepper.

The Fish:

  • Preheat the grill to it's maximum setting - give it a good five minutes to really get good and hot.
  • Lightly oil a baking tray, then lay the seabass fillets in it, skin-side up. Smear the skin with a little oil, then season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Place the tray right up under the grill - about 5cm (2in) away - and watch as the skin begins to bubble, brown and crispen. Grill the fillets for about two minutes, watching them like a hawk.
  • Take the tray from under the grill and test the fish for 'doneness' by pressing lighhtly with your finger. They should be perfectly cooked when the flesh is soft, but still has a little springiness. Alternatively you can cut into one and have a look inside - it should still be be slightly under-done. Set aside - it will continue to cook while you assemble the dish.

To Serve:

  • Reheat the sauce, check the seasoning, then throw in the diced tomato and chopped parsley.
  • Arrange the fennel and spinach on four warmed serving plates, then top each with two fillets of seabass.
  • Spoon the sauce around and serve.

To Eat:

  • Remember that someone, somewhere was willing to pay five thousand pounds for this dish, so enjoy it!

Serves 4

Chef Jim Fisher