How to cook sea bass

How to cook sea bass

Sea bass languished in the culinary depths until fairly recently when professionals rediscovered its sweet, textured flesh and gleaming, silvery skin. It’s since become a fashionable fish to serve in restaurants, regarded as a delicacy. Smart dinner parties have followed suit and now supermarkets sell it alongside the ubiquitous salmon and haddock.

Sea bass is meatier than many other fish, with many likening it to chicken. This bolder texture and flavour means it can be served with ingredients containing stronger flavours without being overpowered.

There are many different ways to cook sea bass and it is delicious both served whole or as fillets. Read on for tips on what to look for when buying sea bass, as well as instructions on how to poach, grill, roast, steam and fry sea bass (along with plenty of sea bass recipes for inspiration).

What to look for when buying sea bass

Buy farmed sea bass where possible – wild sea bass numbers are at critically low levels, so should be avoided. Ideally, sea bass should be cooked when it is fresh, seek out bass with clear eyes, intact fins and bright red gills, firm to the touch and free of an undesirable fishy smell. It is harder to tell how fresh sea bass fillets are - but try and identify pearly white flesh with no discolouration.

How to cook sea bass

Filleted or whole, sea bass suits a whole range of cooking methods and should present no difficulty to a proficient home cook. Whole sea bass have sharp fins and a thick layer of scales that need to be removed prior to cooking. The skin can be removed but chefs usually leave it on - it's a great source of nutrients and has takes on a lovely colour and texture once it meets a hot pan of oil.

Cooking sea bass whole

Baking in salt is a superb way to cook a whole sea bass. The salt crust acts as a seal so the fish becomes succulent and tasty but not salty. Ensure that it has been gutted with gills removed - as this will impart a bitter flavour - but leave the scales on as they will help to lock in moisture.

Other ways of cooking a whole sea bass include barbecuing or roasting in the oven. With both methods, it is often recommended that the fish is tightly wrapped in foil first, this will ensure that the flesh does not dry out as it cooks. Flavour can be imparted by adding other ingredients to the foil, such as oil, butter, herbs, vegetables or citrus fruit. Alternatively, try slashing a cavity in the fish and stuffing with your chosen ingredients - Dominic Chapman recommends lemon and fennel in his sea bass recipe.

Cooking sea bass fillets

You can either buy a fillet of sea bass individually or fillet a whole fish into two individual fillets yourself. When cooking a sea bass fillet, make sure that it has been pin-boned carefully beforehand.

Sea bass fillet is supple, but holds firm during cooking. Pan-frying is probably the most popular cooking method, chosen by chefs like Kevin Mangeolles or William Drabble. But sea bass fillets can also be gently cooked by steaming, poaching, cooking en-papillote or even serving raw as carpaccio. Alternatively, you could deep-fry sea bass fillets as Galton Blackiston recommends, but opt for a light, airy batter so as not to overwhelm its subtle flavour.

What sea bass goes with

Stronger, punchier flavours often draw out the true brilliance of sea bass, so why not try the fish with bacon, as in Matthew Tomkinson's escalope of wild sea bass recipe, or drizzled in a coriander and vanilla sauce, as Marcello Tully recommends.

Sea bass also partners well with sharp, sweet and sour Asian flavours - as exemplified by Shaun Hill's sea bass with Chinese spice recipe and Galton Blackiston's battered sea bass recipe.

Alternatively, try sea bass fillet sliced up in a carpaccio with a simple chilli and oregano dressing, as Robert Thompson advocates.

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