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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