2 tbsp nonpareil capers, preferably salt-packed, or drained, rinsed and patted very dry
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and julienned, top reserved
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Neutral-flavored oil (canola or sunflower)
pink or black pepper
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The nicest dishes, in my opinion, are based on flavor combinations that the cook just imagines would possibly go well together, as well as a nice balance of textures and good execution.
This dish places a lot of emphasis on the ingredients, without a lot of added seasoning. Here, you have fish that is delicate and crisp, yet cod is inherently identifiable, definitely not a generic ‘fish’ flavor. It’s balanced by the fennel, with its caramelized edge highlighted with a touch of balsamic vinegar, the crisp, salty capers, and the creamy, almost sweet vanilla sauce. The citrus and alcohol in the Grand Marnier cut through the sauce and remove the possibility of it being cloying, and the pink pepper adds a final floral touch.
I’ve made this dish several times, and even non-seafood eaters have been delighted. I hope you’ll enjoy this one!
1Heat 1" of oil in a small saucepan until it reaches 375 degrees. Add capers and fry for 1 minute, which will expand and look like flowers. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and set aside.
2Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss julienned fennel with just enough oil to coat and sprinkle on balsamic vinegar. Arrange in single layer on baking dish and roast for 15 minutes, or until edges are brown and caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside.
3While fennel is roasting, prepare cod: season liberally with salt and pepper just prior to cooking and rub the entire surface of the fish with oil. Heat a lightly-greased, heavy-bottomed pan to medium-low heat.
4Lay fillets in preheated pan. Do not disturb fillets during cooking. When fillets have a brown, crusty exterior (about four minutes), flip and cook other side. Do not raise heat higher than medium, and do not let fish overcook. The ideal fillet should have a crisp crust and a barely translucent center.
5When fillets are cooked, remove from pan. Let pan cool momentarily before deglazing with Grand Marnier. Scrape out vanilla seeds from pods; add both pods and seeds to pan. Add heavy cream, do not let boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6To assemble, spoon half the vanilla cream sauce onto each plate. Pile the roasted fennel in the center of each plate, place cod fillet on top. Arrange fried capers on the cod, and add a single coarse grind of pepper to finish.
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