Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Romesco, Braised Fennel, Charred Cherry Tomatoes, and Oil-Cured Olives

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Chef David Schrier at The Alvah Stone gets fresh fish from BerkShore several times a week. This recipe has multiple components, but the braised fennel and romesco can be made ahead of time. Chef Schrier suggests striped bass or sea bass for this dish, but it will also work well with any firm-fleshed fish fillets. Try swordfish, hake, or skin-on cod if you can’t find bass.

For the romesco:

½ large sweet white onion

1 pound (about 2 or 3) red or yellow bell peppers

½ head fresh garlic (if you are using garlic that has been in storage, use only 1 or 2 peeled cloves)

1 tablespoon canola oil

1-2 slices ½ inch) sourdough bread, torn into 2-inch pieces

1 tablespoons canola oil

1½  teaspoons salt

¾ cup blanched almonds

¼ cup sherry vinegar

¼ cup canola oil

½ cup water 

Cut the onion and peppers into ½-inch slices. Put the peppers, onion, and garlic in a bowl with 1 tablespoon canola oil and a sprinkle of salt. Toss well, then spread evenly on a sheet pan. Roast at 425° for 15 minutes or until they have some nice brown crispy caramelization around the edges. 

Toast the bread in a skillet with 2 tablespoons oil until crisp and brown.

Let everything cool slightly.

In a blender or food processor, add onion, garlic, and pepper mixture, bread, almonds, vinegar, water, and salt. Purée on low, then on the highest speed to fully smooth the mixture. 

Slowly add in oil to emulsify sauce and smooth even further. Your final texture should be slightly fluid but hearty.

For the braised fennel:

1 head fennel

1½ tablespoons butter

1 cup good Chardonnay or another white wine you like the taste of

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt to taste 

Begin by coring the fennel and slicing lengthwise into ¼-inch slices.In a 10-inch skillet, add the butter and melt over low heat.

Add the fennel once it has mostly melted. Cook the fennel on low heat for about 15 minutes. You don’t want the fennel to color, just soften. Add wine, salt, and lemon juice to the pan. Cover the fennel with a circle of parchment paper, or a pan lid just a little off center, so that a very little bit of steam can escape. Let braise until most of the liquid has been absorbed. It’s done when it tastes delicious and has just enough liquid to remain moist.

For the cherry tomatoes:

Toss 1 cup cherry tomatoes in a bowl with olive oil and salt to cover and season properly.

Put under the broiler on high for 5 minutes or until the skins have just begun to crack but maintain their shape and texture.

Let the tomatoes cool enough that you can handle them. Peel away all skin.

To assemble the final dish:

2 (6-ounce) sea bass fillets, skin on

Canola oil

¼ cup pitted oil-cured black olives

Fennel fronds and herbs for garnish 

Pat the fish skin dry very well with paper towel. Season both sides with salt. Bring a sauté pan to medium-high heat and add enough canola oil to just film the bottom of the pan. When the oil is really hot and shimmering, add fish skin side down.

Hold fish down with a spatula for a minute to make sure the skin has full contact with pan. Release spatula and turn heat down to low-medium low and let fish finish cooking 90% of the way with the skin side down. Turn over fish and turn off the heat. Let finish in the pan.

Take a nice big plate and spread a couple large spoonfuls of romesco sauce, a couple spoons of braised fennel, a few olives, a few roasted cherry tomatoes, and put the fish on top. Garnish with fennel fronds and any other herbs you have on hand.

Serves 2