Whitefish with Roasted Fennel and Potato

Pangasius fillet with roasted fennel and potatoes and fresh cilantro yogurt sauce

Pangasius fillet with roasted fennel and potatoes and fresh cilantro yogurt sauce

I love the flavor of fennel, both in seed form and as whole fresh fennel bulb, so I just recently bought some of this springtime favorite at the grocery store. I’ve also started experimenting with eating the stalks and fronds (that many recipes would have you discard or save for soup stock), so I put together a dinner that used the whole thing.

It seemed fennel and whitefish would go quite nicely together, and I found a couple recipes online (linked below) that I used as a guide. I’ve been using pangasius lately (from frozen), for the same reason everyone else is, it’s inexpensive, farm-raised, and tasty.

First, I roughly cut fennel bulb and red potatoes. I also chopped the fennel stalks and fronds, but left them aside, since they don’t need so much time in the oven. I coated a baking pan with olive oil, and tossed the potato and fennel, salt and peppered them, to prepare them for a 425° F oven.

Fennel bulb and red potatoes prepared for oven roasting

Fennel bulb and red potatoes prepared for oven roasting

Roast the vegetables (uncovered), for perhaps 40 minutes, initially; every 10-15 minutes, toss them so they cook and brown evenly.

While roasting, prepare a yogurt sauce to accompany the fish. I made a sauce from homemade yogurt, chopped cilantro, cumin powder, lime juice, salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne powder.

When the potatoes are somewhat tender, mix in the chopped fennel stalks and fronds, and continue cooking for perhaps 15 minutes.

Oven roasted fennel and red potatoes

Oven roasted fennel and red potatoes

When the potatoes are pretty much done, it’s time to add the fish. Since it’s easy to bake fish in a hot oven as well, I decided to make this a one-pan meal, placing the pangasius fillets atop the partially-roasted vegetables for a final 15-20 minutes of baking.  I spread some mashed garlic on the fillets and seasoned them simply with salt and pepper before placing in the oven.

Pangasius fillets baked atop roasted fennel and potatoes

Pangasius fillets baked atop roasted fennel and potatoes

The dish is done when the fish is cooked through and just be flaked slightly with a fork, but not dry.

I served a single fillet atop the yogurt sauce, with the fennel and potatoes on the side, and some lime slices; wedges would have been more convenient for squeezing on the fish.

Whitefish with fennel, potatoes, and cilantro yogurt sauce

Whitefish with fennel, potatoes, and cilantro yogurt sauce

This was really nice and you can see I made three servings, so I’m happy to have leftovers for tomorrow – and the next day. :)

Here are some recipes you might like, that I consulted for ideas:

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Tea-Smoked Catfish

Tea-Smoked Catfish on Cucumber with Honey Tzatziki

Tonight I experimented with a Chinese cooking technique: tea smoking, that you can do indoors in your kitchen… if you want to stink up your house; ha ha, only kidding; my housemate arrived mid-smoke and said it smelled pretty good. :)

I learned about tea smoking on Chef Ming Tsai’s program, Simply Ming, perhaps a month or two ago.

First, tea smoking typically calls for a covered pan with a lid, and a screen or wire grill that can fit inside to suspend the fish or meat above the smoking materials.  I decided to use an old pan that I no longer use, and should have discarded because the non-stick surface is flaking off.  I figured it was perfect for this application since the food doesn’t come in contact with the pan’s surface and it has a tight fitting lid.

I lined the pan with two layers of aluminum foil, and placed the smoking materials in it: some uncooked Calrose rice, Darjeeling tea, brown sugar, and some tarragon leaves.  (The tarragon was once fresh, but that was a long time ago, so I thought cremating it was reasonable.)  I used Darjeeling, an Indian rather than Chinese tea, simply because that was the only leaf tea I had on hand.  I don’t see why you couldn’t use any tea, even ground tea leaves, though.

Ingredients and tea-smoking materials in a pan.

The fish I chose was an unusual kind of catfish, well, unusual to most Americans: it’s sold here by the name “Swai,” and is a typically farm-raised in the Mekong Delta region.  This fish is just a bit lighter and more flaky (less meaty texture) than U.S. catfish. While technically a catfish, it isn’t allowed to be sold by that name here because it competes with the U.S. farm-raised catfish.  If you’d like to know more about this increasingly popular and sometimes controversial fish, you can read more in my recipe for  Moo Shu Catfish.

I prepared the thawed fish filet (3-4 oz., about 1/2″ at its thickest point) by rubbing it with some five spice powder and brown sugar and placing atop napa cabbage leaves in a steamer to be placed in the smoking pan, with another layer of aluminum foil between the steamer and the smoking materials so that they don’t adhere to the steamer as they burn.  (I didn’t have a screen or wire rack, so I improvised by temporarily removing the plastic handles from my rice cooker’s steamer basket.)

Swai fillet atop napa cabbage, ready for smoking.

Next, I set the burner to a medium-high heat, and when it began to smoke a bit, covered the pan with a tight-fitting lid, reduced to medium heat, and cooked for 15 minutes; luckily the lid was just high enough to accommodate the steamer basket.

After those 15 minutes, I removed the pan from the heat and allowed it to sit another 15 minutes, then uncovered it.

The tea-smoked and cooked Swai fillet.

I served the filet on lightly salted, peeled cucumber slices (overlapped, otherwise they can’t be picked up with chopsticks!) and topped it with a simple tzatziki-like sauce of greek yogurt, minced garlic, black pepper, salt, and a touch of honey.  While I used fresh garlic here, I’d suggest using roasted garlic as the sauce’s garlic flavor was a bit harsh for this mild fish.

Tea-Smoked Catfish

So, the verdict? The fish was moist and tender with a significant smoky flavor, but quite unlike that of wood-smoked fish. It’s a tasty option. I do think, however, I would have experienced the smoky flavor more genuinely had I not been essentially standing in or over the smoke for a half hour or more just prior to dinner. :)

I’ll experiment with different rices and teas, and perhaps tea-smoke a brined Cornish game hen before baking it.

Lastly, I see why some tea smoking demonstrations suggest covering everything with foil (including the lid). The smoke mixes with the moisture and can make for a couple extra minutes of scrubbing during clean-up.  It’s super easy to just discard the foil instead.

Here are the recipes I consulted:

Moo Shu Catfish

Moo Shu Catfish

This is a delicious moo shu that I made with an asian variety of catfish.

To make this dish, pan-fry a light-flavored, white fish fillet in canola oil with thin strips of fresh ginger and a bit of chili garlic sauce, removing it as soon as it’s cooked and flakes easily.
In the same pan, deglaze with perhaps 1/3 cup thin sauce made of water, oyster sauce, honey, bean paste, and soy sauce and quickly stir-fry thinly-sliced cabbage, matchstick carrot, sliced scallion, thinly-sliced black mushroom, and bean sprouts. Remove while vegetables are still slightly crisp; flake the fish and add it to the mixture. (You might also add scrambled egg, as in many moo shu recipes.)
Serve wrapped with moo shu pancakes or in a flour tortilla as I did here, or with rice.

I bought the fish by the name “Swai”; it’s also known as basa, tra, panga (e.g., France) or pangasius, vietnamese river cobbler (U.K.?), and iridescent shark (although it’s a catfish, not a shark.) In the U.S., it is not allowed to be sold by the name “catfish” because it competes with U.S. catfish in the market.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iridescent_shark
It’s a commonly farmed fish in the Mekong Delta region.

I made Ginger Catfish previously, and this is likely the sort of fish that would be used in Vietnam.

Here’s some more info on the fish, which has gotten some scrutiny as it has become popular world-wide with a commensurate explosion in farming of it in asia. Perhaps surprisingly, it has become one of top ten most popular fish in the U.S., due to its flavor and low cost. (For instance, I bought a 6.5 ounce fillet for under $2.)

“What is Pangasius? Only the 9th most consumed fish in the USA”
http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/2011/09/13/what-is-pangasius-only-the-9th-most-consumed-fish-in-the-usa/

“Pangasius hypophthalmus”
http://www.fao.org/fishery/culturedspecies/Pangasius_hypophthalmus/en

Here is a documentary film, critical of its farming, c. 2008:
“Qu’est ce qu’un Panga ?”
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xo87j_quest-ce-quun-panga_sustainable_dev