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  • Bute St Seafoodie

Pan-Fried Bream with Grilled Fennel and Black Olives

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

"When the Good Lord begins to doubt the world, he remembers that he created Provence."

Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914)

Some recipes literally jump out of the page at you - sometimes it's the photograph, other times it's the title and/or the ingredients list. On this occasion it was the latter and as it happened I had unwittingly been accumulating everything on the ingredients list over the preceding couple of days, not that there are many ingredients in this recipe at all!

It comes from the book "Ripailles" by Stéphane Reynaud, which is a veritable compendium of French classics. This is, I suspect, not a classic but when you think of black olives, fennel, dill, olive oil and tomatoes, it speaks of the Provence region of France in reams.

Black bream was definitely one of my fish of the year in 2020. Recently, they had been promising to put in an inshore appearance for a while and there were a few who were obliging but this last couple of weekends' hauls were plentiful. This dish is a fantastic way to enjoy bream and particularly seasonal in early summer as tomato crops start to flourish. Bass would also benefit from this treatment and, given the robustness of the accompanying flavourings, I would definitely consider alternatively using red mullet, gurnard, grey mullet or mackerel.

As a plate of food this would definitely enjoy being paired with a Provence rosé but even if not it would most definitely wish to be served with some good bread to mop up the sauce. Bon appetit!

I was really tempted to use olive oil to cook the fish but I am convinced that sunflower or vegetable oil more reliably achieve a crispy skin. The fact that there is plenty of extra virgin olive oil in the dressing makes this decision that much easier to support.

Fillets from a single 500-600g black bream work perfectly for this recipe when served for two. I have also made it using the fillets from a 400g fish per serving and although this makes for a slightly more substantial plate, the remaining ingredient quantities do not need to be adjusted.

Wide, shallow soup bowls are particularly good serving vessels for this dish.

Pan-Fried Bream with Grilled Fennel and Black Olives

Ingredients (Serves 2)

2 x 150-175g bream fillets, each cut in half

1-2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil

1 fennel bulb

2 small-medium tomatoes

About 12 black Niçoise-style olives, pitted and sliced

3-4 spring onions (or 1-2 bulb salad onions is even better, if available)

A handful of dill sprigs

100ml extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Remove the outer layers and stalks of the fennel and cut the hearts into thin slices from root to tip. Lightly coat the slices with a little of the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, and place on a baking sheet under a hot grill for around 3-5 mins per side until browning at the edges. Remove and keep these aside, they can be served at room temperature.

  2. Meanwhile, score the tomatoes with a cross at the tip and the tail and put in a jug of boiling water for 1-2 mins. Remove and cool under running cold water. Peel the skins away then deseed and cut the flesh into small dice. Transfer to a bowl with the sliced black olives.

  3. Roughly chop the spring onions with three-quarters of the dill fronds and add to the diced tomato and black olives. Pour over the extra virgin olive oil to create a dressing and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  4. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper on the flesh side and only with salt on the skin side. Heat the sunflower or vegetable oil in a frying pan and, when hot, put in the fish fillets skin side down (they should sizzle when they hit the pan). Fry for about 2 mins on the skin side then turn the fillets over and switch off the heat to allow the flesh side to cook in the residual heat.

  5. In each of two serving plates put a fish fillet first, then a layer of grilled fennel slices over, and a second fish fillet on top. Add the tomato, olive, spring onion and dill dressing, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil if preferred and garnish with the remaining dill fronds.


  1. "Ripailles", Stéphane Reynaud (2007), pp. 358:

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