Fennel risotto with Sea bream (Risotto di Finocchio con Orata)

Risotto or pasta is not served as a side dish in Italy, but sometimes you do get fish fillets served on top of a nice plate of risotto (in many cases raw, or just slightly cooked because the raw fillets are on top of the hot risotto). I really like the combination of a risotto made with fennel and home-made fish stock and a sea bream or seabass fillet, fried on the skin side only for juicy tender fish with crispy skin. Risotto takes some time and patience to make, but the texture is better if you do the proper stirring for 15-20 minutes. As with any risotto, the taste depends to a great extent on the quality of the stock. If you have sous-vide equipment, you can make the fish even better by cooking it sous-vide and then crisping up the skin over high heat as described here. I am not specifying a wine pairing for this, as it is good with almost any dry white wine.


For 2 servings as a full meal

For the risotto

130 grams (2/3 cups) risotto rice such as arborio

500 ml (2 cups) home-made fish stock

1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs

2 shallots

1 glass (100 ml) dry white wine

salt and freshly ground white pepper

1 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the fish

Fillets of 1 sea bream (dorade, orata, dorada) or 1 seabass (branzino, loup de mer)

salt and freshly ground white pepper

extra virgin olive oil

To serve

2 slices lemon

2 sprigs fresh dill or fennel fronds


Chop the shallots. Cube the fennel. Heat 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or butter) in a wide thick-bottomed pan. Add the shallots and fennel and stir. Season with salt. Cover the pan and let the fennel and shallots braise for around 15 minutes until tender but firm to the bite and golden, stirring now and then. It is nice to let the fennel caramelize slightly for additional flavor.

Meanwhile, season the fish fillets with salt on both sides and freshly ground white pepper on the meat side. Rub the meat side with extra virgin olive oil.

If you own sous-vide equipment, seal the fillets in a pouch and pre-heat your water bath to 48C/118F. Cook the fish fillets sous-vide for 15 minutes.

Heat the fish stock and let it simmer.

When the fennel is tender, add the rice and toast for a few minutes until the edges become translucent.

Add the wine and stir until most of the wine has evaporated.

Add a ladle of hot fish stock, and stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid over medium heat. Keep adding ladles of fish stock and keep stirring for around 16-18 minutes until all the fish stock has been used up and the rice is cooked ‘al dente’. Turn off the heat. Add 1 Tbsp butter in pieces and stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Let stand for a few minutes.

Heat olive oil in a non-stick frying pan until it’s smoking hot. Add the fish fillets, skin side down. Press down with a flat spatula (because they will curl up). If pre-cooked sous-vide, this step is only for crisping the skin and done in less than 1 minute. If you did not cook the fish sous-vide but started with raw fish, lower the heat to medium and wait until the top of the fish is opaque. Do not turn over the fish and remove it immediately as soon as it is opaque to avoid overcooking.

Serve the risotto on preheated plates with the fish (skin side up), a sprig of dill or fennel fronds and a slice of lemon. Great with almost any dry white wine.


5 thoughts on “Fennel risotto with Sea bream (Risotto di Finocchio con Orata)

  1. I found this as i was looking for break sous vide times, cheers. A note though, if you put slashes int eh skin of your bream fillet your reduce how much it curls up.


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