This dish harks back 40 years or more, to a London restaurant called Le Suquet, just around the corner from the now-iconic Bibendum. It was named after the historic fruit and vegetable market in Cannes. It typified our view of the Côte d’Azur, the decor, the uncompromising French menu, and the staff, who were deliberately offensive to anyone who either didn’t live nearby or hadn’t visited 20 times before. However, once you had the good fortune of being accepted as a regular, the staff suddenly became warm, funny and welcoming.

I always ordered the same dishes whenever I visited: Soupe de Poisson followed by Bar au Beurre Blanc et Fenouil. My philosophy has always been: ’Find something good and stick to it’. I made no apologies then, I make none now. I’ve been married to Helen for over 45 years…

This is a straightforward dish that sees most of the cooking done in advance, allowing you to spend more time with your guests rather than fretting over fish at the last minute.

Sea Bass on Fennel

  • For the sea bass
  • 6 fillets of sea bass, each 150  –  200 g, skinned
  • 4 large bulbs of fennel, trimmed
  • 1 banana shallot (or 1 small onion), peeled and finely sliced
  • 1½ teaspoons of sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • 50 g butter, plus extra to top the fish when cooking
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • For the beurre blanc
  • 1 banana shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 100 ml fish stock (or a stock cube)
  • 75 ml of white vermouth, e.g. Noilly Prat or Martini Bianco
  • 75 ml dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 100 g butter, kept very cold and cut into 1.5cm cubes, plus another 20 g for frying the shallot
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • Halve the fennel vertically, slice lengthways to a thickness of 4 – 5mm then blanch in a pan of boiling water with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and the lemon juice, for 10 – 15 minutes or until tender. Strain well.
  • Fry the sliced shallot in 20g of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil until translucent. Add ½ teaspoon of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt and the fennel seeds and fry gently for 2 minutes.
  • Add the blanched fennel to the shallot pan and mix.
  • Transfer to a shallow, ovenproof dish large enough to hold all of the fillets in one layer. Set to one side.
  • Next, prepare the beurre blanc. Gently fry the chopped shallot in 20g butter until translucent, add the vermouth and the wine. Simmer to boil off the alcohol.
  • Add the fish stock, lemon juice and sugar, then boil until it has reduced by about a third.
  • Remove from the heat and strain into a small saucepan. Set to one side.
  • About one hour before serving, heat your oven to 180°C / 350°F / gas mark 4.
  • Add 100ml of wine to the fennel, dot the top with small pieces of butter, then place in the oven for an hour. Make sure it doesn’t brown too much.
  • Take the dish out of the oven and lay the fish fillets on top of the fennel. Season the fish with salt and pepper and top each with a thin slice of butter.
  • Return to the oven for 10 – 12 minutes.
  • While the fish is cooking, heat up the beurre blanc base until it is beginning to boil.
  • Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cold butter two pieces at a time, until an emulsion forms that coats the back of a spoon. Season.
  • Check the fish; it should be just set when cooked.
  • Using a spatula, carefully lift a fillet, and the fennel underneath it, and place on a plate. Spoon some beurre blanc over the fish and serve with new potatoes and perhaps a few fine green beans.

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