Recipe: Fabulous flavours of the silvery bass

Sea bass with harissa and citrus glaze

Sea bass with harissa and citrus glaze - Credit: Archant

Not so long ago - although a good few years, admittedly - fishmongers couldn’t give away sea bass.

They were considered second rate fish. Then chefs discovered them and found that, once scaled, sea bass had beautiful silvery skins - and they were cheap.

With a wonderful texture and flavour they have now become a sought-after ingredient on every smart menu. Consequently, it has become necessary to farm sea bass.

There is a world of difference between wild sea bass and farmed: in size and in the texture of the flesh. The farmed variety will not have the muscular tautness or the sweet flavour of the wild one.

So if you see a tray of same-sized sea bass on the fishmonger’s slab, you can bet that they were raised in cages off the coast of Greece or Tunisia.

If you can find wild sea bass, ask your fishmonger to scale and gut it. The scales are really tricky, like little plastic discs which will fly off and stick to anything and everything. The safest way to scale a fish is to do it under water. Fill a sink of cold water and scrape away from you, holding the fish by the tail. Do it with a blunt, stout knife.

A small sea bass will yield a perfect portion and the fillets can cope with strong flavours. My recipe with harrisa and orange is a perfect foil for the delicious flesh. I dipped the fillets in seasoned flour and then pan-fried them, but sea bass works well steamed, poached or cooked en papillote, which means to cook in a homemade bag. This contains all the super flavours and smells when you cook with herbs or citrus. En papillote works well for all quick-cooked things, such as chicken breast and fish.

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Fish must be cooked just before you want to eat, but as it cooks so fast it can be popped in the oven or a pan and be ready in minutes.

Above all, don’t overcook it. Usually, once the fish is very hot, it will be cooked. Overcooking will dry out the flesh and it will become stringy.

Simple cooking always works best. Fish, beurre noisette (nut brown butter) lemon and capers are perfection itself!

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