I went out for a "last hurrah" day of h&l fishing before the ground fish season closes and came home with near limits of Reds and Chuckleheads (vermillion and copper rockfish). I had the in-laws staying with us, and I wanted to try something different from the usual boring pan-fried fillets or the mess and challenge of eating whole steamed fish. Inspired by a bouillabaisse I had the other night, I came up with this and it was DELICIOUS!Rockfish in saffron fennel broth
Stock: (takes about 20 minutes)
3 to 4 lbs of fish bones (no heads, bloodlines, or entrails) - something like 2 halibut carcasses, 4 to 5 rockfish carcasses, or 1/2 a good sized WSB carcass
stalk of celery (with leaves), roughly chopped
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
handful of parsley
4 C water
Main Dish: (takes about an 45 minutes to an hour with prep)
3 to 5 lbs mild flakey fish fillets (halibut, rockfish, calico, grouper or WSB)
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and sliced about 1/4" thick
1/2 onion, sliced lengthwise, 1/4" thick
1/2 stalk celery, sliced on the diagonal
1/2 carrot, diced 1/4"
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1-1/2C dry white wine (e.g. sauvignon blanc)
1 tsp saffron threads
Juice of 1 blood orange (regular orange will work, too)
2 bottles good quality clam juice
OPTIONAL: "al dente" cooked Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & cubed 1/2"
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 diced roma tomatoes, skin on but core and seeds removed (see note below)
2 TBS chopped italian parsley leaves
4 oz clarified butter ("ghee")
Make a stock from the bones (no heads; too strong a flavor), onion carrots, and celery. Use a lower ratio of water to bones in order to make a richer stock. simmer no longer than 20 minutes, and strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and set aside.
While the stock is simmering gently, in a separate large pot (I use a big Le Creuset dutch oven), bring 2 TBS of virgin olive oil to temp over medium heat and gently sauté the fennel, onion, celery, carrot, and garlic until softened (about 3 to 4 minutes). Avoid browning. Add wine and reduce down about 1/2. Add saffron, orange juice, strained stock, and clam juice. Bring to a low simmer.
In a good quality heavy-bottomed 12" or 14" sauce pan, heat 2 TBS of clarified butter until just before smoking. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season with salt & pepper. Working in batches, starting with the thickest pieces, lay the fillets "good side" down (the inside of the fillet, not the skin side). Sear until lightly browned, then gently flip and brown on the other side. Don't cook, just sear! Depending on thickness, the meat should be only slightly cooked. Add the tomato, thyme, and parsley (If using potatoes, add them to the broth now) Lay the fillets onto the broth, slightly immersing them in the broth and spooning a bit over them. Simmer the broth until the fish is just cooked (DO NOT OVERCOOK!!!). Remove the thyme sprigs.
Serve in a shallow bowl by gently scooping some of the broth & fennel mixture into the bowl, then a hunk of fish, then a bit more broth over the top.
Serve with grilled ciabatta bread and a crisp green salad and your favorite white wine.
*Seeding roma tomatoes: After removing the core from the top, slice horizontally and gently squeeze over the sink to push out the seed & pulp capsule. If you ever have a recipe that calls for peeled and seeded romas, you can cut an "x" through the skin in the bottom after removing the top core, then blanch in boiling water for about 30 seconds. The skin should slough right off.