Having woken up very early one blustery fall morning, I had made up my mind to get out and catch some fresh sea bass, an adventure I’d taken on many times before. I was on a visit to my home region of Jersey, the first such visit in years.
A quick trip to a regular haunt was the plan, so with rods in hand and bait and tackle, off I go. The journey becomes a little tricky when the sun has yet to raise its glorious head above the horizon. But you always need to set off from home base at half-tide to ensure you’re taking advantage of the incoming high tide. That’s when the bass are at their hungriest, and a good early morning start ensures they won’t have eaten. They don’t feed at night.
The rods set up and line cast out. It’s time to wait for that all-important bite. Suddenly. little more than a half-hour later, the rod dips, the line starts too reel out. I lift the rod, and the battle is underway. A fight is always good first thing in the morning when my stomach gets to choose the opponent – it will, of course, be a fish!
The to-ing and fro-ing lasts about 15 minutes. Then a two-pound bass is wrenched from the water, its silver scales flashing against the morning sun, a black stripe along its side visually slicing the shiny skin in two as it swings toward shore. Victory. I’ve caught enough for dinner and leave for the journey home.
The flesh of a sea bass is composed of lean to moderately fat cells and can be cooked in a variety of ways, from broil to bake, to poach, to sauté. Today’s entrée is sauté.
Sea bass supreme
2 6-ounce sea bass fillets, skin on
Pinch of salt and black pepper
Pinch of white pepper
8 fresh basil leaves
¼ cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons mustard
4 sweet cherry tomatoes
1 large sweet potato
2 teaspoons lime juice
6 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 small white onion
1 cup arugula
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Season the fish with salt and pepper. Place in a dish and scatter some basil leaves over the fish. Cover with Saran wrap and place in the fridge for up to an hour, allowing time for the basil flavour to blend with the bass.
While the bass is marinating, peel and cut the sweet potato into small pieces. Place in a pot of water with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cook until tender. Also peel and then quarter the white onion, and halve the cherry tomatoes to prepare them for adding shortly to the cooking fish.
Using a large frying pan, melt the butter on a high heat, then place the sea bass on the melted butter, skin side down. (The trick is to get the skin nice and crispy.)
After cooking for 3 minutes, the sea bass skin should be crisp; turn the fish over and cook for a further 3 minutes and remove from the pan. While the fish is cooking, place the quartered onion and tomato into the pan (just to sear), then remove them from the pan.
Once the sea bass, onion and tomato have been removed from the pan, add the olive oil, white wine, mustard and cumin and leave to reduce, giving a paste like consistency.
Strain the cooked sweet potato; then add a little butter, a pinch of salt and white pepper, and then mash.
Toss the olive oil with the arugula and several basil leaves. Place some mashed sweet potato in the centre of a dinner plate, lay the bass on top, add some tomato and onion, and a small portion of the greens – and voilà.
Sit down and enjoy. Great for evening dinner, a light lunch or even a middle fish course.