I have a mini herb garden in my kitchen, pots of basil, coriander, lovage, mint and others, all lined up on the window sills. The mint is a problem: it grows like a weed and tends to smother the others, so every now and again I will search for a recipe that uses mint, just so I can prune it without feeling guilty.
This recipe comes from Skye Gyngell’s ‘My Favourite Ingredients’, one of those books that, no matter which random page you open it at, you want to eat what you see. This one, for example, tastes even better than it looks.
As usual, using the very freshest, perfectly ripe ingredients allows it to sing. If you don’t have sea bass, this would work equally well with the freshest mackerel, or meaty tuna steaks. I served it alongside fennel chips, the flavour of the fennel seeds echoing the crushed fennel in the sauce, but I think it would also be delicious with simple steamed rice.
RECIPE – Serves 2
2 sea bass fillets, skin on
100ml extra virgin olive oil
3 sweet red onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried red chilli
freshly ground black pepper
a handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, leaves only
a small bunch mint, coarsely chopped, leaves only
4 ripe, sweet, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil, for frying
Set the sea bass fillets aside on a covered plate to allow them to come to room temperature.
Place a pan over a low heat, pour in the extra virgin olive oil and, when the oil is warm, add the onions. Cook very gently for about 30 minutes, to bring out the gentle sweetness of the onions. Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a dry frying pan to release their flavour, then grind using a pestle and mortar.
Add the ground fennel seeds to the onions, crumble in the chilli and season with a little salt. Cook for a further 10 minutes, still over a very low heat. Add half the parsley and mint, stir well, then add the tomatoes and sherry vinegar. Turn up the heat a little and cook for 10 minutes. This sauce should taste very clean, so don’t cook the tomatoes for too long.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Season the fish well, especially on the skin side. This will draw out the moisture in the skin, allowing the skin to go crisp and crunchy when cooked and adding both flavour and texture to the finished dish.
Place a non-stick ovenproof frying pan over a high heat. Pour in a little olive oil and when hot, lay the fish skin side down in the pan. Cook for 2–3 minutes until the skin is golden brown. Immediately transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking without turning the fish. This should take no more than a further 2–3 minutes.
To serve, taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add the rest of the parsley and mint. Spoon into warm shallow bowls and lay the fish fillets on top. Serve at once.