Fish Wrapped in Grape Leaves
The whole spirit of the Aegean is in this dish. I like to use fennel, which grows wild all over the Aegean, to perfume my fish. Grape leaves add a beautiful astringency and make for a gorgeous presentation. Easy elegance with the pared down essential nature of the Aegean! I can feel the salty sea breeze on my face when I eat this!
- 2 large potatoes
- 1 large fennel bulb
- 1 – 2 large firm ripe tomatoes
- 2-3 fresh rosemary sprigs
- Olive oil as needed about ½ to ¾ cup total
- Greek sea salt and freshly groundblack pepper to taste
- 1 bunch fresh parsley trimmed
- 1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 bunch fresh oregano sprigs
- 10 – 12 grape leaves rinsed
- 1 whole sea bream or sea bass about 3 pounds/ 1 ½ kilos, scaled and gutted
- 2 – 3 tablespoons ouzo
- 2 – 3 tablespoons water
- 1 lemon sliced into thin rounds
Preheat the oven to 350F/170C.
Peel and rinse the potatoes and set aside in a bowl of cold water until ready to use. Trim the root end off the fennel and cut the bulb in half and then into thin slices. Reserve and chop the stalks and fronds and set them aside to use inside the cavity of the fish. Cut the tomatoes into thin rounds.
Lightly oil a baking pan large enough to hold the vegetables and fish snugly. Slice the potatoes into round or oval slices about 1/8-inch thick. Place potato slices, fennel slices and tomato slices in alternating layers, season each layer lightly with salt and pepper and a drizzling of olive oil, and interspersing the rosemary sprigs between the layers.
On a clean work surface or cutting board, place 6 grape leaves vein side up in one overlapping layer large enough to swaddle the fish once you place it over the leaves. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and stuff the cavity with the remaining chopped fennel stalks and fronds as well as the parsley, thyme and oregano sprigs. Don’t worry if some of the herbs spill out.
Gently place the fish over the grape leaves. Place 2-3 grape leaves vein side down over the surface of the fish. Bring up the bottom leaves on which the fish is resting and wrap them around the sides and surface of the fish, to enclose all but its head and a bit of its tail. Gently place the grape-leaf-wrapped bream over the vegetables in the pan. Spritz with ouzo and water. Top the fish with the lemon slices. Cover with parchment and aluminium foil and bake for a half hour (rule of thumb is 10 minutes per pound), until the fish is flaky.
While the fish is baking, make the dressing: Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper until emulsified and set aside.
Remove. Carefully remove the fish using two large spatulas and place on a serving platter. Place the vegetables around the fish. Serve, with the ladolemono dressing on the side.