Fennel-Grilled Bass Flambeed with Pernod

Loup de Mer au Fenouil Flambe

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Direct Grilling Serves

    4

Appears in

Here’s a dish for cooks with a penchant for theatrics. Freshly caught loup de mer (literally, wolf of the sea, corresponding to our sea bass) grilled over burning fennel stalks and dramatically flambéed at the tableside is the ultimate culinary showpiece of the French Riviera. It’s easy to make and impressive to serve. There are only two remotely challenging aspects to the recipe: finding whole fennel stalks and remembering to dry them ahead of time.

Fennel, a bulbous green-white vegetable with the flavor of licorice and the crunch of celery, grows wild in Provence, in the south of France. My wife, Barbara, and I often found it on roadside picnics. Once considered exotic in the United States, it can now be found at most supermarkets, but to get fennel with the stalks attached, you may need to go to a farm stand, an Italian market, or a specialty greengrocer (although there are supermarket produce departments that do carry untrimmed fennel). Once you find the fennel, cut off the stalks and dry them as described in the following box (the dried stalks will keep for months).

Here’s the authentic recipe for loup de mer au fenouil flambé from the Auberge des Glycines on the tiny island of Porquerolles. You can grill the fennel bulbs (see for instructions). An alternative recipe, for people who can’t find fennel stalks, follows the main recipe.

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Ingredients

  • 2 whole sea bass (each about 2 pounds), cleaned and trimmed of fins, heads and tails left on (see Note)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 to 12 dried fennel stalks (see box, following)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Method

Advance Preparation

  • hours to dry the fennel stalks, if using

  1. Rinse the fish, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain them and blot dry with paper towels. Make 3 diagonal slashes, to the bone, in each side of each fish. Season the fish, inside and out (including the side slashes), with salt and pepper. Place 2 dried fennel stalks in the cavity of each fish. Brush the fish on both sides with the olive oil and season again with salt and pepper.

  2. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high.

  3. When ready to cook, arrange 6 fennel stalks on a serving platter. Place the remaining fennel stalks directly on the hot coals or, if using a gas grill, on the grill grate. Brush and oil the grill grate. If you’re worried about the fish sticking, use hinged fish-grilling baskets; otherwise, place both fish directly on the hot grate or on top of the fennel stalks and grill until the skin on the first side is dark and crisp and the flesh is cooked through to the bone on that side, 8 to 12 minutes. Turn each fish carefully with a long spatula and cook on the second side until the flesh breaks into firm flakes when pressed with a finger, 8 to 12 minutes longer.

  4. During the last 2 or so minutes the fish cooks, warm the Pernod in a heavy saucepan at the side of the grill; don’t let it boil or even get too warm to touch.

  5. Using a spatula, carefully transfer each fish to the fennel stalk-lined platter. Pour the warmed Pernod over the fish and then carefully ignite the liqueur with a long match. Carefully bring the flaming fish to the table. When the flame dies out, fillet the fish as described and serve at once, with lemon wedges.