Fennel develops a great flavor when it is braised slowly until it lightly caramelizes and becomes mushy, and it pairs well with fish. In this case I chose whiting, and used the heads and bones of the fish to make a fish stock to make risotto. The fish is only just cooked through by adding it raw to the risotto and allowing it to cook in the hot rice. The result was a wonderful but elegant risotto. Here’s what I did…
For 2 servings
700 grams (1.5 lbs) whiting, filleted (to obtain 300 grams (.66 lb) of fillets) (may be substituted with other white fish)
130 grams (2/3 cup) risotto rice (I used carnaroli)
1/2 onion, minced
80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine
2 fennel bulbs
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the stock
heads and bones of the whiting
scraps from the above fennel, chopped
1 carrot, 1 stick celery, 1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
some black peppercorns
Cut the bottoms and tops off the fennel, quarter them and remove the tough core. Reserve the scraps for the stock and the fronds for garnish. Slice the fennel about .5 cm (1/4 inch) thick.
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the fennel and stir until the fennel is covered with a thin layer of oil. Season with salt.
Cover the pan and lower the heat.
Braise the fennel over low heat, stirring regularly…
…until it has become soft and slightly caramelized. This takes about an hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the fish stock. Chop the carrot, onion, celery, and fennel, and sauté them in a tablespoon of olive oil in a stock pot.
Remove the gills and eyes from the fish heads and soak the fish heads and bones in cold water to remove any traces of blood. Drain and add the fish heads and bones to the sautéed vegetables.
Cover with 1 litre (4 cups) of cold water.
Bring to a boil and remove the scum that rises to the surface with a slotted spoon. Then lower the heat to a simmer and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, filter the fish stock with a fine sieve and keep it hot.
Cut the fish fillets into 2-3 cm (1 inch) pieces. Season them with salt and allow the salt to penetrate while you make the risotto.
Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed wide frying pan over medium heat. Add the minced onion and sauté until the onion is translucent.
Add the rice…
…and stir until the rice is very hot, a couple of minutes.
Deglaze with the white wine…
…and stir until the wine has been absorbed.
Add a ladle of hot fish stock to the rice and season with a bit of salt.
Stir over medium heat until it has been absorbed. Keep adding stock and keep stirring for about 15 minutes.
By now the fennel should be done. Add it to the risotto and stir to incorporate. After that, keep adding stock and stirring…
…until the rice has obtained the right consistency when you taste it. The rice should be cooked, but still have some bite (al dente).
Add a last ladle of stock and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the fish and a tablespoon of cold butter, cut into a few pieces.
Stir to incorporate the fish, then turn off the heat and allow to rest for a couple of minutes.
Serve at once on preheated plates, garnished with reserved fennel fronds.
This will work well with an elegant dry white wine that is not high in acidity.
These chocolate muffins are easy to make and are really good. If you like chocolate (and who doesn’t), give this a try!