With Two Fennels and Saffron Sauce
We recently had a dozen people for a dinner based on a French Riviera theme. The table was set in white with teal blue accents, seashells and lavender plants helped set the stage as did the myriad of small vintage French Riviera posters we tucked amongst the place settings. We hoped the setting would evoke cool thoughts of summer by the sea in the midst of our heat wave in the Berkshires.
For the main course, we served halibut on a bed of sautéed fennel bulbs, topped with a saffron sauce and dusted with fennel seed powder. The fennel seed powder (or ‘fennel dust’) has a similar taste to sassafras root/filé gumbo.
The recipe is very easy to make and is one of the most elegant seafood dishes you’ll ever try! Serve it on a plate that has raised sides or even in a shallow bowl so you are able to contain the delicious sauce. You’ll want to have plenty of crusty French bread available!
Two fennel bulbs, fronds removed and sliced paper-thin (preferable on a mandoline)
Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely minced
2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable broth)
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon of cold water
½ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
4 6-ounce portions of halibut filets (you may substitute haddock or cod for a less-expensive alternative)
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, pulverized in a small food processor or crushed in a mortar
Fennel: Sauté the fennel slices in olive oil until soft and lightly browned. Add in the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, then set aside, covered, while you prepare the sauce and fish.
Sauce: Put the saffron into the wine, stir gently, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
In a sauce pan, sauté the shallots in the olive oil until soft and translucent, but not browned.
Add in the saffron-wine and broth and simmer gently until reduced by half. Set aside, cover and keep warm.
Halibut: Place the halibut skin-side-down on a piece of foil that has been lightly coated with olive oil or cooking spray.
Grill the halibut for about 10 minutes on medium heat, leaving the grill cover closed as much as possible. The fish is done when it lightly flakes apart with a fork. When the fish is done, move to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm while you finish the sauce.
To finish: Bring the sauce pack to a simmer, add in the cornstarch-water mix and stir until warm and thick. Remove from heat and gently stir in the crème fraîche or sour cream.
Serve the halibut on a bed of sautéed fennel and top with the saffron sauce. At the table, sprinkle with some fennel seed powder. Pass additional fennel seed powder at the table.
*This recipe is my variation on a Williams-Sonoma Entertaining recipe for Sea Bass with Summer Vegetables.