Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pan Roasted Chilean Sea Bass

Here in Chicago we don't have that much access to really good, fresh fish.  As a consequence, I don't make it as often as I would like.  No matter how good a cook you may be, you can't make up for starting with poor quality ingredients.  But this week my local Italian market happened to have some really fresh Chilean Sea Bass.  So I took the opportunity to buy a couple nice pieces and prepare it for a weeknight dinner, as it is quick and simple to make.  From start to finish it is on the table in under 45 minutes.

This fish, actually named the Patagonian Toothfish, maybe a very unattractive creature in the wild, but it has some of the nicest, flaky white delicate fish you can imagine.  It is however expensive, and if you do find it fresh you will pay significantly for the privilege.  I paid $17 for two nice size pieces.  This is because there are now regulations on how much of this species can be harvested as over-fishing was causing its numbers in the wild to be reduced significantly, causing concern that it may become endangered.  My fish came from South Georgia, which has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for sustainable management.  

This evening I made my fish with a Mediterranean sauce and a side of roasted asparagus.  I often use this sauce with a delicate white fish, as it adds both flavor and color.  If you plan to do the same, begin by making the sauce as the fish is quick and easy to pan roast.  Alternatively, you can simply make a white wine and butter sauce with a bit of chopped shallot after removing the fish from the pan.

Mediterranean Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup dry vermouth (or dry white wine)
1 medium tomato
8 Calamata olives, pitted
1 tablespoon butter to finish
Finely chop the shallot and the garlic.  Cut the tomato into larger cubes and slice the olives.  Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a small sauce pan until melted and sauté the shallot for 2-3 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic and sauté for a minute longer.  Add the vermouth and cook until reduced by half.  Add the tomatoes and olives.  Reduce heat to very low and cover while you prepare the fish.  Add some stock if the mixture becomes to dry.   Stir in the final tablespoon of butter to finish the sauce just before serving.

Purchasing and Preparing the Sea Bass
Ask the fish monger for two pieces of a similar size and shape.  If you get one large cross section and attempt to cut it into two pieces, you'll find one is quite thick while the other is more thin.  This is the natural shape of the fillet. 

Most recipes suggest that you prepare the fish with the skin on.  This, the recipes suggest, helps to keep it together in cooking and improves moisture.  I personally, don't like to see the skin on the fish when served.  As such, I  start by placing the fish skin side down on a cutting board.  Then I run a thin, sharp knife under the edge of the skin, holding on to the skin as you slide the knife along between the skin and fish fillet.  This fish typically does not fall apart in cooking, nor does it dry out easily.
I also keep a mixture of spices of spices that I use for any number of recipes.  A blend of paprika, crushed red pepper, chili pepper, oregano and other herbs makes for a nice rub with just a little kick.  This is what I used here.  You can use any seasoning or none at all.

Heat a heavy skillet over high heat on the cook top that is also oven safe at high temperatures.    (I use cast iron for this.)  Add two tablespoons of butter to the skillet and when melted, add the fish.  Sauté for 3-4 minutes per side, until browned.  Use two spatulas to gently turn the fish as shown.  Move the skillet to a 400F oven and let the thick fish cook through, another 5-8 minutes depending on thickness.   As I usually serve this with roasted asparagus I put those in the oven just before the fish goes in and it all comes out together.

Plate the fish on top of the asparagus, spoon over your Mediterranean (or other) sauce drizzling the plate as well.   You will have a restaurant quality dinner, prepared in your kitchen on a weeknight.  Your spouse will be impressed!

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