Delicious pan-seared Chilean sea bass served in lemon butter sauce. This easy seafood recipe is a great way to use these fresh fish fillets and can be put together in just ten minutes.
Chilean sea bass, also known as Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish, is a deep saltwater type of fish often found around the Antarctica region. It’s a rare and much sought-after fish, with a price tag to match in restaurants. It is a white, flaky fish that tastes like cod, leaning towards buttery and a smooth texture.
Despite the name, there are marked differences between regular sea bass and Chilean sea bass. In fact, the latter is no bass at all. It is a Patagonian toothfish, a type of cod icefish. On the other hand, sea bass is a general term given to different fish from different families. It is found in the Western Atlantic and comes in various forms to eat steamed or roasted.
Sea Bass vs. Chilean Sea Bass: What’s the Difference?
There’s a reason why this recipe calls for Chilean sea bass specifically. This type of white fish has a distinct texture and flavor from its North American cousins. However, it also contains higher mercury levels, so be careful when preparing it for children or people sensitive to mercury.
Chilean sea bass has a smoother, buttery texture compared to regular sea bass. Consumers describe it as “melt in your mouth.” It has a richer texture than a regular bass.
In terms of taste, Chilean is more similar to cod than regular bass, while sea bass has a stronger, more ‘fishy’ flavor.
Its white, flaky meat also resembles other whitefish, while regular sea bass meat is pinker and less flaky.
What Does Chilean Sea Bass Taste Like?
Chilean sea bass is a great fish for someone who is hesitant about fish or seafood. It does not have an overpowering fishy taste. Instead, it has a very mild, neutral flavor that is enhanced by searing. Depending on the preparation method, you may be able to extract a hint of sweetness from the fish.
The taste is similar to other whitefish such as cod, albeit more refined.
Choosing Your Fish
Like with all fish, fresh fillets always work the best. However, if all you have is frozen sea bass, you will need to ensure that it is thawed outright. The issue with thawing it out is that you will need a little extra time to prepare the dish, and if you hurry, then it might not work out well for you. So, first, take your time to think about which fish you want to use.
One of the ways to tell if the fish is fresh is to look at its eyes. The eyes should be clear, and the fish shouldn’t have a “fishy smell”—that is undesirable. The flesh shouldn’t have any type of discoloration either.
If you’re not in the mood for Chilean sea bass or perhaps you can’t find it, then you can use Alaskan sablefish. It also goes by the name black cod. The two have a similar taste. You may not notice the difference once you serve the fish. The most significant advantage is that sablefish aren’t as scarce as Chilean sea bass. Moreover, it is available year-round and much more affordable. You can also use halibut, snapper, trout, pollock, and grouper.
If you are buying a whole Chilean sea bass, the first step to preparing it is to descale it. Run a sharp, non-serrated knife along the side of the fish from the tail to the head to remove the scales, then rinse the fish and pat it dry.
Once the fish is descaled, clean the guts out. Cut the belly open by slicing from the tail to the head. Scoop out all the innards, including the gills. Rinse the fish again to clean it.
Once you clean your Chilean sea bass, you can separate the fillets. Slide the knife between the spine and the flesh and slice toward the tail until you detach the fillet. Repeat for the other side.
The fillets may still have some bones leftover toward the center of the fillet from the fish’s ribcage. Remove those with tweezers. Rinse the fish one last time to ensure that it is clean, then you are ready to cook!
Some fishmongers may prepare the fillets for you, or at least descale and remove the guts.
How to Clean Sea Bass
First, get your tools. You need a chopping board and a sharp, non-serrated knife.
Then, scrape off the fish scales starting at the tail and moving towards the head. Rinse the fish to get rid of any residual scales and pat it dry with a paper towel.
Now it’s time to clean out the guts. Slice the bass open at the belly. Use your knife (and your fingers if necessary) to scoop out all of the innards. Rinse away any residue.
How to Filet a Sea Bass
Once you clean your sea bass, you can filet it.
Place the tail close to you. Starting at the head, put your knife between the spine and the flesh, cutting away towards the tail. This should detach the upper filet.
Flip the fish over. Repeat the same process of cutting away the filet by separating it from the spine.
Expert Cooking Tips
How Do You Know When Chilean Sea Bass Is Done?
Use a small sharp knife to poke the fish slightly. It shouldn’t flake when you poke at it. Flakiness means the fish has already lost a lot of moisture and, as such, does not have the same texture as properly cooked fish. Remember that fish will continue to cook even after you have taken it off the heat. As such, you will need to remove it from the heat when it is just about to be done.
Can You Eat Sea Bass Skin?
Yes, you can eat sea bass skin. When you sear it in a pan like in this recipe, then the skin is deliciously crispy and accompanies the flesh of the filet perfectly. In fact, leaving the skin on is a good idea when searing sea bass because it prevents the delicate flesh from flaking during cooking.
Do You Leave the Skin on Chilean Sea Bass?
When searing Chilean sea bass, leave the skin on. The skin helps protect the flesh and prevents it from drying out or sticking to the pan as you sear it. Even if you don’t like eating fish skin, keep the skin on while it’s cooking and remove the skin later to help improve the flavor during the searing process.
It also adds a nice crunch to the eating experience if you are able to get it crispy while searing. To get extra-crispy skin while searing your sea bass, oil the skin side of the fish lightly before putting it in the pan.
How to Get Crispy Skin
To get crispy skin, pat the fish dry to make sure that there is no extra marinade. Then, score the skin and fry the fish—skin side down first.
Can You Freeze Sea Bass?
If you bought a filet of sea bass but don’t know what to do with it just yet, the good news is that you can put it in the freezer. When frozen, raw sea bass can keep for up to 3 months. Just be sure to store it in an air-tight bag.
After you cook it, you can also freeze it, but it will taste different when you reheat it.
Why You Shouldn’t Marinate the Fish for More Than 20 Minutes
Marinating the fish for too long will leave the fish over-saturated and may disintegrate the fish, causing it to go mushy. The rule of thumb is that the more delicate the meat, the less time it needs to marinate. Marinating for longer than 20 minutes will give the acid time to start cooking the fish.
Leftovers & Reheating
Reheating fish is best done in a low-heated oven. The fish is wrapped loosely in tin foil for moisture retention. First, allow the fish to cool down entirely and then store it. Then, put it in an airtight container or bag before putting it in the fridge. It should be good for about a day, at which time you can reheat and serve. You can also add some water when you reheat if the fish seems dry.
What to Serve with Chilean Sea Bass
One of the best side dishes for Chilean sea bass is wild rice pilaf. Wild rice pilaf is a dish made out of several types of rice grains and often chopped vegetables. The fluffy grains and earthy flavors balance out the intense salty flavor of the sea bass.
Another good choice is grilled vegetables. The slight char of the vegetables and simple preparation pair well with the seared sea bass. You can mix and match whichever vegetables you like and are in season.
If you want a simple, mild side dish, you can never go wrong with mashed potatoes. If you want to serve a mash but are bored of regular mashed potatoes, try serving cauliflower mash.
Pan-Fried Chilean Sea Bass
- 4 Chilean sea bass fillets
- fresh rosemary
- kosher salt to taste
- fresh black pepper to taste
- 1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp mirin
- 4 tsp sugar
- 1 inch fresh ginger minced
- 1 ½ tsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 ½ tbsp cooking oil
- 1 pinch salt
Lemon Butter Sauce
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 lemon juice of
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Pat dry each sea bass fillet with paper towels. Use a knife to score the skin of each fillet.
- In a small bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients.
- One fillet at a time, dunk the sea bass in the marinade and massage gently, and transfer to an airtight bag. Use more than one bag if you need to.
- Pour any remaining marinade over the fish fillets, seal the bag. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes.
- Prepare the sauce by melting butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Add the lemon juice and minced garlic. Whisk to combine. Leave over low heat while you cook the fish.
- Remove fish from the marinade and pat dry
- In a skillet or frying pan over medium heat, heat up cooking oil.
- Fry the sea bass skin-side down. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the skin turns crispy.
- Turn fillets over and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until flesh is white and flakey.
- Serve immediately skin-side up with lemon wedges and side salad or herbs
Do You Wash Sea Bass Before Cooking?
No, you will not need to wash sea bass before cooking it. In most cases, the fish brought from the butcher will already be clean. Cleaning fish often refers to its guts being removed rather than washing its outer body.
Should You Take the Skin Off Chilean Sea Bass?
No, you should not. You need the skin to make a crispy crust.