Cedar-grilled rouget fennel and mushroom filling, lemon vinaigrette

Credit: Thomas Schauer

This is a sensual dish that evokes the romance of the south of France. In the summertime, I picture playing pétanque with my buddies, sipping Ricard on the Côte d’Azur—dreaming of the fennel, licorice, and anise flavors I love. But this dish is also an homage to one of my mentors, Roger Vergé, and my time as a young chef at his restaurant Moulin de Mougins, where I cooked many red mullet, known as rouget.

Rouget is one of the most delicate, prized and appreciated fish of the Mediterranean, often grilled or used in bouillabaisse. The idea here is to stuff it with fennel, mushroom, and lemon, and to accentuate the flavor with lemon zest, fennel pollen, and Espelette pepper. Cooking it with the cedar sheets has two benefits: it helps hold the stuffed fillets together and gives a wonderful oaky flavor while grilling.

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Instructions

Step 1: Filling

Pick 1/4 cup of the fennel fronds for salad. Discard stalks. With a mandoline, thinly slice 12 ounces (360 g) of the fennel bulb and set aside. Slice the baby fennel lengthwise on the mandoline and keep in ice water.

In a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, heat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of the olive oil. Add the sliced fennel bulb and garlic, the fennel pollen and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the fennel is tender. Add the Pernod and flambé. Transfer to a bowl.

If you can't find fennel pollen, you may substitute toasted and finely ground fennel seed.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and place over high heat. Once very hot, add the sliced mushrooms and sear, undisturbed for 1 minute. Toss and continue to sear until the mushrooms are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the fennel.

Step 2: Rouget

Fillet the rouget and remove pin bones, leaving the skin on.

Place 3 fillets skin side down on a sheet of plastic wrap and season with salt, pepper, Espelette, and fennel pollen.

Zest the lemon over top. Stir the lemon juice into the filling. Spoon approximately 1/4 cup filling onto the fillets. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap, tying the ends taught, and repeat to make 4 logs. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Cut the plastic from the ends of the rougets and carefully unwrap. Generously brush the cedar paper with olive oil and tighty wrap around the rouget logs; trimming excess paper. Tie logs 3 times with butcher’s twine. Brush the outside of the paper with olive oil.

Heat grill pan to medium-high heat. Sear logs on all sides for about 6 minutes total, or until fish is cooked and filling is hot. Unwrap the fish from the cedar paper, reserving it for presentation.

You can check the doneness of the fish by inserting a cake tester in the center for a few seconds and pressing it to your bottom lip to see if it is warm. When the filling is warm, the fish is cooked.

You could substitute other small fish such as trout.

Step 3: Vinaigrette

In a small bowl, whisk to combine ingredients, seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and Espelette.

Step 4: Plating

In a medium bowl, toss the sliced baby fennel, fennel fronds, and frisée with the vinaigrette, salt, and pepper to taste. Present the rouget on the cedar paper, top with salad, and drizzle vinaigrette around.

This recipe was originally published in "My Best Daniel Boulud" (Éditions Alain Ducasse). See all credits