This dish comes from Greece, handed to me from my mom who tried the dish via a family friend, Kuria (Mrs.) Anna. For this dish I used sea bream (tsipoura) filets but you can use any white fish filets (preferably with skin on). I like the skin on fish – when it is crispy and in the case it is delicious when paired with soft vegetables like the wilted spinach and fennel here.
Spinach is available all year ’round, its good for you, its delicious and it complements many dishes. Fennel is also in season and this anise-flavoured bulb can be used to make a bright salad or complement fish and seafood. Besides onions and scallions, the dish also gets flavouring from selino, a European thin-stalked type of celery that you will see more often than the usual celery that you and I cook with. Here in Toronto, Asian grocers usually carry “selino”.
The great thing about this dish is ease with which it comes together and the minimal use of kitchen utensils: cutting board, strainer, bowl, large skillet. As with any dish, you should have your ingredients ready (mise en place) and that’s probably your most important task here.
Head to your fish monger and ask for sea bream. Greece ships very fresh farm-raised sea bream and sea bass to much of the world and its great roasted, pan-fried or grilled. Most fish mongers will filet the fish you and all you have to do is cook. The finishing touch is the Avgolemono sauce: often used to thicken a soup without using cream, this tangy sauce is also used as an accompaniment to cabbage rolls, dolmades, fricassee and fish dishes.
Making an Avgolemono sauce without it turning to scrambled egg is easy: you’re tempering hot liquid by slowly adding it to the egg/lemon mixture. Do this and you’re home free and fearless in the Greek kitchen.
Pan-Seared Sea Bream With Spinach, Fennel & Avgolemono Sauce (Τσιπουρα με Σπανακι, Μαραθο Και Αυγολεμονο)
4 fresh sea bream, skin-on and fileted
2 stalks of European selino (celery), diced (or one stalk regular celery)
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks of fennel, diced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of hot water
4 cups of fresh spinach, washed well, roughly chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 large eggs
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. of olive oil
1 heaping Tbsp. of flour
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fennel fronds for garnish
- Rinse your filets and pat-dry, then drizzle and rub both sides of fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes (to firm up). Remove from fridge and allow the fish to return to room temperature. In the meantime, prep your remaining ingredients (mise en place).
- Use a sharp knife to just barely score the skin side of the filets. Place a large non-stick pan on your stovetop over medium-high heat and when hot, add some olive oil and gently place the fish (skinside down first) into the pan. Sear for 2-3 minutes or until you can see the fish has cooked 2/3 of the way (look at them sideways). Flip and sear the flesh side for another 2 minutes and remove with a spatula and keep warm on a platter.
- In the same pan over medium heat, add the remaining olive oil, onions, fennel and sweat for 5-6 minutes while stirring. Now add the chopped spinach and stir until it just begins to wilt. Add the stock or water, salt and pepper and cover. Once the water begins to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until veggies and spinach are just soft.
- In the meantime, beat your eggs and lemon juice in a bowl and set aside. Place a small pot on your stovetop and add the oil and flour and stir with a wooden spoon for a minute. Carefully strain the liquid from the skillet and slowly pour into the pot with the roux, and continue to stir until it begins to thicken. Take off the heat.
- Now whisk your egg/lemon and slowly pour the hot liquid then pour back into the skillet with vegetables/spinach. Add the sliced scallions, fish fillets on top, cover and gently shake your pan back and forth and allow to thicken.
- Adjust with salt and pepper and divide and serve with a garnish of fennel fronds. Pair with a Kir Yanni Petra.
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